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Anne Hutchinson Versus Massachusetts
She was, said Governor Winthrop, an American Jezebel
June 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 4
Dudley had just restated the charge that Anne had disparaged the ministers as unable to rightly preach the New Testament; Cotton had replied that he did not remember it. Had Anne Hutchinson been able to content herself with renewing her demand for the ministers’ oath, she might well have walked out of the court a free woman. But she chose this moment to declaim a confession of faith. The Lord had given her to see, she said, that those who did not rightly preach the covenant of grace had the spirit of Antichrist, and “upon this he did discover the ministry unto me and ever since, I bless the Lord, he hath let me see which was the clear ministry and which the wrong.… Now if you do condemn me for speaking what in my conscience I know to be truth, I must commit myself unto the Lord.”
Dudley, who had sized up the defendant more shrewdly than anyone else, immediately pressed his advantage. He began to taunt her, driving this now overwrought woman into traps that she had previously avoided with great skill. When she claimed she could distinguish between right and wrong ministries by an immediate revelation, he encouraged her to go on by asking, “How! an immediate revelation?”
With that, Mistress Hutchinson launched into a tirade bordering on hysteria. She called on Scripture to support her claims and compared herself to Daniel in the lions’ den. It was an apt comparison but hardly one to charm the court. She closed by screaming, “You have power over my body but the Lord Jesus hath power over my body and soul. And assure yourselves thus much: you do as much as in you lies to put the Lord Jesus Christ from you. And if you go on in this course you begin, you will bring a curse upon you and your posterity! And the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it!”
In the shocked silence that followed this outburst, Dudley turned to the court and asked sarcastically: “What is the Scripture she brings?” Then Israel Stoughton, who earlier had favored administering the oath to the ministers, declared: “Behold, I turn away from you.” The tide of opinion was now running against Anne Hutchinson.
John Winthrop now triumphantly addressed the court: “We have been hearkening about the trial of this thing and now the mercy of God by a providence hath answered our desires and made her to lay open her self and the ground of all these disturbances to be by revelations.… And that is the means by which she hath very much abused the country that they shall look for revelations and are not bound to the ministry of the Word, but God will teach them by immediate revelations. And this has been the ground of all these tumults and troubles, and I would that all those were all cut off from us that trouble us.” And after further unflattering remarks Winthrop summed up: “I am persuaded that the revelation she brings forth is delusion.” The transcript then reads “All the court but some two or three ministers cry out, ‘We all believe it—we all believe it.’ ”
However unnecessary it may now have been, there was one remaining scruple to be satisfied. Winthrop asked the ministers to take the oath. The transcript reads “Here now was a. great whispering among the ministers. Some drew back, others were animated on.” Three of them then took the oath and testified to more or less the same effect as before. The heresy of Anne Hutchinson, which had been presumed throughout, was now officially established.
William Coddington, beseeching the court not “so to force things along,” courageously maintained her defense until the end. “No man may be a judge and an accuser too,” he cried out. But his efforts were useless. All but three members of the court voted to banish her.
John Winthrop solemnly pronounced the sentence of the court: “Mrs. Hutchinson … 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.”
It was not possible to banish Anne Hutchinson immediately. First she had to be excommunicated, and this raised an inconvenient complication. The power of excommunication, by established New England practice, was held by the whole congregation. But since Anne Hutchinson still had a considerable following in the Boston church, it was a good question whether the congregation actually would do the job. The ministers, fully recognizing the challenge they faced, made their preparations with great care.
Anne was confined in a house in Roxbury (out of the reach of her Boston following), where, as Winthrop put it, “divers of the elders and others resorted to her.” This went on for more than three months, and the visitations seem to have succeeded in breaking down her resistance. On March 15, 1638, a defeated and debilitated Anne Hutchinson was called before the congregation of the church in Boston. As teacher of the Boston church the Reverend John Cotton presided.
Various of her “errors” were read to her, and she was asked whether she would renounce them or not. Although she still showed faint signs of her old fire, she seemed to have given up. It must have been a crushing experience for her to hear John Cotton say, “… let me warn you … the dishonour you have brought unto God by these unsound tenets of yours is far greater than all the honour you have brought to him, and the evil of your opinions doth outweigh all the good of your doings. Consider how many poor souls you have misled.”