Anne Hutchinson Versus Massachusetts


Winthrop, who was present and who took a minor part in these proceedings, wrote in his journal, “Mr. Cotton pronounced the sentence of admonition with great solemnity, and with much zeal and detestation of her errors and pride of spirit.” When the great John Cotton turned against her, Anne Hutchinson’s last hope was extinguished.

On March 22, 1638, Anne Hutchinson stated to the congregation of the church of Boston, “As my sin hath been open, so I think it needful to acknowledge how I came to fall into these errors. Instead of looking upon myself I looked at men. … I spake rashly and unadvisedly. I do not allow [that is, sanction] the slighting of ministers, nor of the Scriptures, nor any thing that is set up by God.”

This confession did make an impression on John Cotton, and perhaps he briefly hoped that Anne might be spared excommunication after all. When it was asked if her confession could be repeated for those who had not heard it, he said, “The sum of what she said is this: … She doth utterly disallow herself and condemn herself for [her] carriage. And she confesseth the root of all was the height and pride of her spirit. [As] for her slighting the ministers, she is heartily sorry for it … and desires all that she hath offended to pray to God for her to give her a heart to be more truly humbled.” Any good this might have done, however, was quickly wiped out by Anne herself. With a flash of her old stubbornness she spoke up and said: “My judgment is not altered, though my expression alters.”

This gave the ministers exactly what they needed. One after the other, while the great Cotton remained silent, they all stated their opinions. What they had to say is best summed up by the words of the Reverend Thomas Shepard: “Yea, this day she hath showed herself to be a notorious imposter. It is a trick of as notorious subtlety as ever was held in the church to say … that she all this while hath not altered her judgment, but only her expressions.” And the Reverend John Wilson pointedly added that it would be a sin against God not to rid themselves of a woman who could tell such a lie.

John Cotton saw what was expected of him, and he remained silent no longer. Whatever Anne Hutchinson may have been to him, he now joined the majority of the ministers. “I see this pride of heart is not healed but is working still,” he said. “God hath let her fall into a manifest lie, yea, to make a lie. And … I think we are bound upon this ground to remove her from us and not to retain her any longer, seeing that she doth prevaricate in her words, as that her judgment is one thing and her expression another.”

As the sin of telling a lie was considered a matter of practice rather than doctrine, Cotton turned the proceedings over to Pastor Wilson, who wasted no further time. Before any member of the church could express dissent, the pastor quickly pronounced the sentence of excommunication, calling her a heathen, a publican, and a leper.

The transcript of Anne Hutchinson’s second trial comes to an end with the pastor’s command to her to depart. Writing of this moment at a later time, Winthrop related the following: “In her going forth, one standing at the door said, ‘The Lord sanctify this unto you,’ to whom she made answer, ‘The Lord judgeth not as man judgeth. Better to be cast out of the church than to deny Christ.’ ”

Two or three days after her excommunication Governor Winthrop sent Anne a warrant ordering her departure from the jurisdiction before the end of the month. Anne Hutchinson sailed to what is now Quincy and thence walked overland through the wilderness to Roger Williams’ Providence Plantations. With her family and a number of her followers she settled on the island of Aquidneck in what is now Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The faithful Coddington became governor of her colony.

But the strain of her prosecution and the hardship of her journey in her pregnant condition had been too much for her. She fell sick, and when the time of her delivery came, she had a stillbirth. Rumors quickly spread that the stillborn child was “a monster.”

The “monstrous birth” of Anne Hutchinson’s child became the instrument for a sharp attack upon her. Even Cotton preached two sermons on the subject. The story was bruited about Massachusetts for the rest of the century, so that impressionable minds could not fail to draw the desired moral: God had punished Anne for her heresy. Long after the child had been buried, it lived as a ghost to haunt all would-be nonconformists.

Mrs. Hutchinson never fully recovered from the shocks of her experience. Although surrounded by her family, followers, and friends in the colony and presumably enjoying some happiness, she left Rhode Island after her husband’s death in 1642 and went to the New Netherlands. Her tragedy was soon to run its full course. Finally settling near the present limits of NewYork City (her name is perpetuated by the Hutchinson River Parkway), she and five of her children were massacred there by Indians in 1643. Writing of her death, the Reverend Thomas Welde asserted that the Indians had gone to more barbaric lengths than usual: “And therefore God’s hand is the more apparently scene herein, to pick out this wofull woman, to make her and those belonging to her, an unheard of heavie example of their cruelty above al others.”