Throwback Thursday: A Troublemaker Arrives to Boston
On September 18, 1634, Anne Hutchinson arrived in Boston. The future icon had already been labeled a troublemaker.
By the time Hutchinson left England for Massachusetts Bay Colony, she had developed differences of theological opinion with her fellow Puritans. Hutchinson believed that faith alone provided salvation. The ministers preached a gospel of works, believing that their deeds mattered. While on the ship crossing the Atlantic, she broke a rule that forbid women from speaking during services to challenge her minister on this point. When an argument broke out, Hutchinson asked the minister to predict the date the boat would land in Boston, a date she supposedly knew because it had been revealed to her in prayer. He refused, so Hutchinson declared that the boat would arrive in mid-September, much sooner than expected.
The boat, indeed, landed on September 18. The ship’s minister promptly reported her to authorities, but upon interviewing her, Reverend John Cotton assured them she shared their beliefs. Hutchinson was not cowed by the experience. Instead, for the next several years, she began gathering others at her home to interpret scripture, and to espouse her belief that grace alone provided salvation. This view, shared by others in the colony, eventually led to a political and religious controversy schism that Hutchinson’s side lost. In 1637 and 1638, Hutchinson was brought to trial, found guilty of heresy, excommunicated, and banished from the colony. Roger Williams convinced her to settle in Rhode Island. But eventually, fearing that the reach of Boston would extend to Rhode Island, she moved further away to Dutch territory in what is now the Bronx. The Dutch were at war with a local Native American tribe at the time, and Hutchison and her children were massacred in an attack.
It had been a contentious and difficult life in the American colonies. But Hutchinson became a symbol for the future nation’s religious tolerance and, eventually, its ideals of gender equity. In American Jezebel, biographer Eve LaPlante writes:
The issues Anne Hutchinson raised—gender equality, civil rights, the nature of evidence and salvation, freedom of conscience, and the right to free speech—remain relevent to the American people four centuries later. Hutchinson’s bold engagement in religious, political, and moral conflict early in our history helped to shape how American women see ourselves today.”
A bronze statue of Hutchinson now stands outside the Massachusetts State House, making her memory a permanent fixture in the state from which she was once banished.