Saturday, 24 July 2010

Anne Hutchinson the fabulous

Anne Hutchinson: she was born in Alford, Lincolnshire (U.K.) in 1591, and died in Pelham Bay, New York in 1643.   Anne’s father, Francis Marbury, was a Church of England clergyman.  He was one for whom the reformation of the C of E seemed incomplete, and he longed for yet more purification of the Church. He was not afraid to challenge authority, and for his pains was imprisoned for two years, for questioning the judgement of his superiors.
Marbury was able to reconcile himself with an incompletely reformed Church, and became the Rector in Alford.  But he was contemptuous of some of the Elizabethan Bishops and for that crime he was forbidden to preach, and subjected to house arrest. 
He made sure that Anne and her sisters were well educated, (by him, and at home, for there were no schools for girls).He responded positively at Anne’s inquisitive mind.
Marbury’s suspension having been lifted, he was appointed to a parish in London.  Anne was fourteen years old when she (and her family) left rural Lincolnshire for the many sights and sounds of London. Shakespeare was producing his plays at the Globe Theatre.  
 The “Gunpowder Plot” was discovered just one week after the family arrived in London.
Anne was wooed by a man she had known in Alford:-  they had practically grown up together.  His name was Will Hutchinson.  He is described in every account as a fabulously good man.  He and Anne wed each other in 1612 when Anne was 21 and Will was 26.  They returned to Alford.
Anne began to teach the bible to local women, with Will's full support.  But by 1634 the Hutchinsons were ready to emigrate to America. The religious climate in England had become increasingly hostile to their point of view, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony looked to be a more hospitable place.
In the Massachusetts Bay Colony the Church of England was dominated by those whom others would call “Puritans”.  There was no freedom of religion in that colony,. Rather there was the  freedom for these colonists to practice their Church of England faith in their “purified way”.
The Hutchinson family sailed for Massachusetts in 1634.  After a ten week voyage they landed in Boston.  On board ship Anne had gathered women to teach them from Holy Scripture, just as she had done in Alford.
They prospered economically in Boston.  Their close neighbour was oft-times Governor John Winthrop.  They attended the Boston Church where their friend from Alford days, The Revd. John Cotton, who was the principal teacher
Anne continued to teach women.  She would lead them in reviewing the Sunday sermon. She could be critical of the Sunday sermon. Some men, who had heard about her excellent teaching, would come to her home to be taught by her.
Herein lay the rub.  Whilst the Church leaders might turn a blind eye to a woman who taught women, they would not countenance a woman teaching men.  Nor could they ignore her criticisms of the Ministers: she’d asserted that only two of them were true Christians. She also taught that the Holy Spirit within a believer could bring that person to truths  (other than those taught by the educated ministers).
The powers that be concluded that she was disturbing the settled order of things. They feared that she would bring disorder to the Colony.  So they placed her on trial.
Anne had two trials, one by the Great and General Court, one by the Church.  The first trial ordered that she be banished from the colony; the second ruled that she be excommunicated from the Church
Anne Hutchinson held her own in both trials.
It is more than clear that she “held her own” in those  trials.
There were no lawyers or jury. There was not even a codified law by which she was being tried. The heart of the case against her was expressed by the Revd. Thomas Shepard “.... she is of a most dangerous spirit, and likely with her fluid tongue and forwardness in expression to seduce many away...”
We’d have known little about Anne (women were merely incidental in the writings of the early colonists) save for the fact that some of her civil trial was recorded verbatim.  
In that trial  there were no lawyers or jury. There was not even a codified law by which she was being tried. It was Anne against the some 40 judges; or rather the forty judges against Anne.   
The transcript makes it more than clear that she “held her own” in the first trial.  But the verdict was more or less a foregone conclusion, even more so when Anne’s friends and mentor of many years, the Revd. John Cotton testified against her.
Anne and her beloved and faithful Will, with some of their children moved to Rhode Island in 1638. Will died in 1641.  Tired of religious strife Anne then moved to the semi-wilderness of what is now Pelham Bay in New York.  She and all but one of the children were murdered by an Indian raiding party.  One eight year old daughter hid in the house and was adopted by the Indians.  Later she was ransomed back (much against her will!). It is through this daughter that we know of the events of Anne’s last day.
It would be a while before Church and State were disentangled in Massachusetts; a longer while before women were “allowed” public freedom of thought and expression; and even longer before women were ordained and permitted to be ministers.  Anne Hutchinson “saw” in the 17th century what the wider community could not see or believe for another two centuries.  She paid dearly for her vision and wisdom, and for her refusal to be silenced.
(See American Jezebel” by Eve La Plante, Harper San Francisco 2004)

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