Anne Hutchinson Versus Massachusetts

“Sir, I do not believe that to be so.”

“Well, we see how it is. We must therefore put it away from you or restrain you from maintaining this course.”

“If you have a rule for it from God’s word, you may.”

“We are your judges and not you ours,” Winthrop exploded, “and we must compel you to it.”

Governor Winthrop was, for a Puritan, a man of magnanimous spirit. He also possessed great ability. Yet so far he had made little headway with Anne Hutchinson. It was probably with great relief that he allowed his cantankerous deputy governor to assume direction of the trial. The mean and petty-minded Thomas Dudley was soon to display a much greater capacity for the unpleasant business at hand.

Dudley, with telling succinctness, restated the charges against Mrs. Hutchinson: “… About three years ago, we were all in peace. Mrs. Hutchinson from that time she came hath made a disturbance.… But now it appears by this woman’s meeting that Mrs. Hutchinson hath so forestalled the minds of many by their resort to her meeting that now she hath a potent party in the country.… And if she in particular hath disparaged all our ministers in the land that they have preached a covenant of works, and only Mr. Cotton a covenant of grace, why! this is not to be suffered.”

This was the first mention made in the trial of the two covenants. It is surprising that Winthrop had said nothing about them. But Anne Hutchinson remained confident and challenged Dudley as boldly as she had Winthrop. “I pray, sir, prove it that I said they preached nothing but a covenant of works.… Did I ever say they preached a covenant of works then?”

“If they do not preach a covenant of grace—clearly, then they preach a covenant of works.”

“No sir. One may preach a covenant of grace more clearly than another. So I said.”

Thomas Dudley had fared no better than John Winthrop in making the defendant “lay open herself.” But at least he had framed the most important issue of the trial, and the accused had been forced to reveal the nature of her defense somewhat earlier than she probably wanted to.

Now the deputy governor put a question that seemed to contain the nub of the whole case. “I do but ask you this: when the ministers do preach a covenant of works, do they preach a way of salvation?” But it was really an ambiguous question, and Anne did the only thing she could do: she refused to answer. “I did not come hither to answer questions ofthat sort,” she proclaimed.

There was nothing else for him to do but to present his evidence, and he did so. Apparently—or so Mrs. Hutchinson made it seem—it came as a surprise to her when he called as witnesses six ministers who had, the year before, remonstrated with her about her meetings. She claimed that their discussion with her was to be held in confidence. But Winthrop quickly ruled that there had been no basis for any confidence. What the six ministers had to state was more than sufficient evidence for the charges against her. The gist of their testimony was that she had told them that only the Reverend John Cotton preached a covenant of grace; that they preached a covenant of works; that they were not able ministers of the New Testament; and that they could not preach a covenant of grace because ihey were not sealed of the Holy Spirit to do so. She might just as well have called them Pharisees. The trial had taken an ugly turn against the woman who had had the indiscretion to give such vent to her convictions about the ministers.

Anne Hutchinson did her best to deny what she could of this testimony. But for her to prevail required more than denying the testimony of—as Winthrop put it—“six undeniable ministers.” Although the day had started badly, Winthrop was pleased with its outcome. With evident satisfaction he said, “Mrs. Hutchinson, the court you see hath laboured to bring you to acknowledge the error of your way that so you might be reduced. The time now grows late. We shall therefore give you a little more time to consider of it and therefore desire that you attend the court again in the morning.”

Back from Newtown, across the tidal basin and mud flats of the Charles River, back upon the small and hilly cape of land that held the town of Boston—dotted only here and there with a few feeble lights in the autumn darkness—back in the temporary sanctuary of her home, there was much indeed that Anne Hutchinson could “consider of.” By the flame of a candle she must have pored over whatever papers she had that concerned her trial. As she did so it could not have failed to remind her of all the events of her three years in Boston.

She could have wished that young Sir Harry Vane were still there, but he had returned to England. If he had still been governor, her good “Brother Wheelwright” would not have been tried and sentenced to banishment for a fiery sermon he had preached in January. And after his trial those men who had signed a petition asking mercy for him found that Winthrop would deal with them, too. Aspinwall, Coddington, Coggeshall, and Captain John Underhill were all being called to account.