Anne Hutchinson, born Anne Marbury (1591–1643), was a Puritan spiritual adviser, mother of 15, and important participant in the Antinomian Controversy that shook the infant Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1636 to 1638.
Her strong religious convictions were at odds with the established Puritan clergy in the Boston area, and her popularity and charisma helped create a theological schism that threatened to destroy the Puritans’ religious experiment in New England.
The couple moved back to Alford, where they began following the dynamic preacher named John Cotton in the nearby major port of Boston, Lincolnshire. After Cotton was compelled to emigrate in 1633, the Hutchinson’s followed a year later with their 11 children, and soon became well established in the growing settlement of Boston in New England.
Anne was a midwife, and very helpful to those needing her assistance, as well as forthcoming with her personal religious understandings. Soon she was hosting women at her house weekly, providing commentary on recent sermons.
After her husband’s death a few years later, threats of Massachusetts taking over Rhode Island compelled Hutchinson to move totally outside the reach of Boston, into the lands of the Dutch. While five of her older surviving children remained in New England or in England, she settled with her younger children near an ancient landmark called Split Rock in what later became The Bronx in New York City.
Tensions with the native Siwanoy were high at the time. Her father was an Anglican minister in London, with strong Puritan leanings, who felt strongly that the clergy should be well educated, and he clashed with his superiors on this issue.
Marbury’s repeated challenges to the Anglican authorities led to his censure and imprisonment several years before Anne was born; in 1578 he was given a public trial, of which, during a period of house arrest, he made a transcript from memory.
He later used this transcript to educate and amuse his children, he being the hero, and the Bishop of London being portrayed as a buffoon. For his conviction of heresy, Marbury spent two years in Marshalsea Prison, on the south side of the River Thames, across from London.
Before long her sessions attracted ministers and magistrates as well. She stressed the individual’s intuition as a means of reaching God and salvation, rather than the observance of institutionalized beliefs and the precepts of ministers.
John Winthrop, however, opposed her, and she lost much of her support after he won election as governor. She was tried by the General Court chiefly for “traducing the ministers,” was convicted in 1637, and was sentenced to banishment. For a time in 1637–38 she was held in custody at the house of Joseph Weld, marshal of Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Hutchinson is known chiefly for her role in the antinomian controversy in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Her participation in so public an event, though rare for pre-modern women, was not unique. From the early Christian era, female activism in religious life gave some women high visibility, thus preserving their voices in the historical record.
From across the street, John Winthrop characterized Hutchinson as “a woman of haughty and fierce carriage, of a nimble wit and active spirit, and a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man.”