1637 Three Hundred And Fifty Years Ago

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On November 7 and 8 Anne Hutchinson was tried by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for “traducing the ministers and their ministry.” At meetings held in her home, Hutchinson had preached that salvation could be earned not by obeying the laws of church and state but by one’s spiritual condition alone. Furthermore, she said, one could communicate directly with God, without the aid of clergy, whom she described as being for the most part misguided anyway. Such notions couldn’t be stomached in a theocracy like Massachusetts.

Inasmuch as Hutchinson’s judges were also her accusers, she had little hope. On the second day of her trial, however, Rev. John Cotton came to her defense, testifying alone in her favor against the gathered ministers. It seemed she was out of danger, when suddenly she professed that God revealed himself to her “by the voice of his own spirit to my soul”; she even threatened the colony with God’s curse. She had condemned herself. A vote was taken, and John Winthrop turned to the accused. “Mrs. Hutchinson,” he said, “the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.”

The following spring Hutchinson and her family settled on Rhode Island. After her husband’s death in 1642, she moved to New York, where a year later she and all her children but one were massacred by Indians.