The Massachusetts Bay Colony Case against Anne Hutchinson (1637)
The Puritans' struggle to practice their own religion freely did not extend to toleration for those who questioned church policies, as Anne Hutchinson, the intelligent, well-read, forty-six-year-old wife of a prosperous merchant, discovered. In 1637 Hutchinson faced prosecution for practices and beliefs deemed threatening to the stability of church and commonwealth. The ministers and magistrates did not think her weekly meetings unseemly when she began them in 1635, but revised their opinions as her audience, interpretation, and instruction of scripture changed. Hutchinson attacked some doctrinal premises, such as blaming Eve—and, correspondingly, women—for Original Sin, while denouncing some ministers for not properly teaching Puritan dogma. She also revealed that she had an inclination to mysticism. For her antinomianism (beliefs against the law) the magistrates exiled Hutchinson. She then moved with her family into what became Rhode Island, helping found Portsmouth there, and then on to Long Island where she and most of her children were later slain by Indians.

Mr. Winthrop, governor. Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here; you are known to be a woman that hath had a great share in the promoting and divulging of those opinions that are causes of this trouble, and to be nearly joined not only in affinity and affection with some of those the court had taken notice of and passed censure upon. But you have spoken divers things as we have been informed very prejudicial to the honour of the churches and ministers thereof, and you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex; and notwithstanding that was cried down, you have continued the same. Therefore we have thought good to send for you to understand how things are. . . .

*   *   *

Mrs. Hutchinson. What have I said or done?
Gov. Why for your doings, this you did harbour and countenance those that are parties in this faction that you have heard of.
Mrs. H. That's matter of conscience, Sir.
Gov. Your conscience you must keep, or it must be kept for you. . . .

*   *   *

Gov. Why do you keep such a meeting at your house as you do every week upon a set day?
Mrs. H. It is lawful for me so to do, as it is all your practices; and can you find a warrant for yourself and condemn me for the same thing? . . .
Gov. For this, that you appeal to our practice you need no confutation. If your meeting had answered to the former it had not been offensive, but I will say that there was no meeting of women alone. But your meeting is of another sort, for there are sometimes men among you.
Mrs. H. There was never any man with us.
Gov. Well, admit there was no man at your meeting and that you was sorry for it, there is no warrant for your doings; and by what warrant do you continue such a course?
Mrs. H. I conceive there is a clear rule in Titus, that the elder women should instruct the younger; and then I must have a time wherein I must do it.
Gov. All this I grant you, I grant you a time for it; but what is this to the purpose that you, Mrs. Hutchinson, must call a company together from their callings to come to be taught of you?
Mrs. H. Will it please you to answer me this and to give me a rule, for then I will willingly submit to any truth? If any come to my house to be instructed in the ways of God, what rule have I to put them away?
Gov. But suppose that a hundred men come unto you to be instructed, will you forbear to instruct them?
Mrs. H. As far as I conceive I cross a rule in it.
Gov. Very well and do you not so here?
Mrs. H. No Sir, for my ground is they are men.
Gov. Men and women all is one for that, but suppose that a man should come and say, "Mrs. Hutchinson, I hear that you are a woman that God hath given his grace unto and you have knowledge in the word of God. I pray instruct me a little." Ought you not to instruct this man?
Mrs. H. I think I may.—Do you think it not lawful for me to teach women, and why do you call me to teach the court?
Gov. We do not call you to teach the court but to lay open yourself.
Mr. Dudley, dep. gov. Here hath been much spoken concerning Mrs. Hutchinson's meetings and among other answers she saith that men come not there. I would ask you this one question then, whether never any man was at your meeting?
Gov.There are two meetings kept at their house.
Dep. Gov. How; is there two meetings?
Mrs. H. Ey Sir, I shall not equivocate, there is a meeting of men and women, and there is a meeting only for women.
Dep. Gov. Are they both constant?
Mrs. H. No, but upon occasions they are deferred.
Mr. Endicot. Who teaches in the men's meetings, none but men? Do not women sometimes?
Mrs. H. Never as I heard, not one. . . .
Dep. Gov. 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. Now if all these things have endangered us as from that foundation, and if she in particular hath disparaged all our ministers in the land that they have preached a covenant of works, . . . why this is not to be suffered. And therefore being driven to the foundation, and it being found that Mrs. Hutchinson is she that hath depraved all the ministers and hath been the cause of what is fallen out, why we must take away the foundation and the building will fall.
Mrs. H. I pray, Sir, prove it that I said they preached nothing but a covenant of works.
Dep. Gov. Nothing but a covenant of works? Why, a Jesuit may preach truth sometimes.
Mrs. H. Did I ever say they preached a covenant of works, then?
Dep. Gov. If they do not preach a covenant of grace clearly, then they preach a covenant of works.
Mrs. H. No Sir, one may preach a covenant of grace more clearly than another, so I said.
Dep. Gov. We are not upon that now, but upon position.
Mrs. H. Prove this then, Sir, that you say I said.
Dep. Gov. When they do preach a covenant of works, do they preach truth?
Mrs. H. Yes Sir, but when they preach a covenant of works for salvation, that is not truth.
Dep. Gov. I do but ask you this: when the ministers do preach a covenant of works, do they preach a way of salvation?
Mrs. H. I did not come hither to answer to questions of that sort.
Dep. Gov. Because you will deny the thing.
Mrs. H. Ey, but that is to be proved first.
Dep. Gov. I will make it plain that you did say that the ministers did preach a covenant of works.
Mrs. H. I deny that.
Dep. Gov. And that you said they were not able ministers of the new testament. . . .
Mrs. H. If ever I spake that, I proved it by God's word.
Court. Very well, very well. . . .
Mrs. H. If you please to give me leave, I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true. Being much troubled to see the falseness of the constitution of the church of England, I had like to have turned separatist; whereupon I kept a day of solemn humiliation and pondering of the thing; this scripture was brought unto me—he that denies Jesus Christ to be come in the flesh is antichrist—This I considered of, and in considering found that the papists did not deny him to be come in the flesh, nor we did not deny him—who then was antichrist? Was the Turk antichrist only? The Lord knows that I could not open scripture; he must by his prophetical office open it unto me. So after that, being unsatisfied in the thing, the Lord was pleased to bring this scripture out of the Hebrews. He that denies the testament denies the testator, and in this did open unto me and give me to see that those which did not teach the new covenant 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. Since that time I confess I have been more choice, and he hath let me to distinguish between the voice of my beloved and the voice of Moses, the voice of John Baptist and the voice of antichrist, for all those voices are spoken of in scripture. Now if you do condemn me for speaking what in my conscience I know to be truth, I must commit myself unto the Lord.
Mr. Nowell. How do you know that that was the spirit?
Mrs. H. How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?
Dep. Gov. By an immediate voice.
Mrs. H. So to me by an immediate revelation.
Dep. Gov. How! an immediate revelation.
Mrs. H. By the voice of his own spirit to my soul. I will give you another scripture, Jer. 46. 27, 28—out of which the Lord shewed me what he would do for me and the rest of his servants.—But after he was pleased to reveal himself to me, I did presently like Abraham run to Hagar. And after that, he did let me see the atheism of my own heart, for which I begged of the Lord that it might not remain in my heart; and being thus, he did shew me this (a twelvemonth after) which I told you of before. Ever since that time I have been confident of what he hath revealed unto me. . . . You see this scripture fulfilled this day, and therefore I desire you that as you tender the Lord and the church and commonwealth to consider and look what you do. 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.
Dep. Gov. What is the scripture she brings?
Mr. Stoughton. Behold I turn away from you.
Mrs. H. But now having seen him which is invisible, I fear not what man can do unto me.
Gov. Daniel was delivered by miracle. Do you think to be deliver'd so too?
Mrs. H. I do here speak it before the court. I look that the Lord should deliver me by his providence.
Mr. Harlakenden. I may read scripture and the most glorious hypocrite may read them and yet go down to hell.
Mrs. H. It may be so. . . .
Mr. Endicot. I would have a word or two with leave of that which hath thus far been revealed to the court. I have heard of many revelations of Mr. Hutchinson's, but they were reports, but Mrs. Hutchinson I see doth maintain some by this discourse; and I think it is a special providence of God to hear what she hath said. Now there is a revelation you see which she doth expect as a miracle. She saith she now suffers, and let us do what we will she shall be delivered by a miracle. I hope the court takes notice of the vanity of it and heat of her spirit.

[From Thomas Hutchinson, History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay, vol. II, 1767 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936), pp. 366–84.]
Print This Page      Close This Page