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Anne Hutchinson, Sectarian Mysticism, and the Puritan Order

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2009

Marilyn J. Westerkamp
Ms. Westerkamp is assistant professor of history in the University of California—Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California.


Anne Hutchinson has been one of the few women to attain canonical status in the history of colonial New England. Her marvelous intellectual abilities (so unusual in a seventeenth-century woman), her popularity among Boston men as well as women, and the powerful political and theological implications of her challenge render Hutchinson a force that must be explored if colonial Massachusetts is to be understood. Not only are historians fascinated by this extraordinary woman herself, they are intrigued by the colony's response to her; for in that very response the founders may have revealed their essential character. So a few books and many articles have analyzed and reanalyzed Hutchinson as victim of Puritan injustice, as threat to the Puritan experiment, as menopausal neurotic, as antinomian heretic, as rebel (occasionally a protofeminist one).

Research Article
Copyright © American Society of Church History 1990

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1. Rugg, Winifred King, Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson (New York, 1930);Google ScholarCurtis, Edith, Anne Hutchinson: A Biography (Cambridge, Mass., 1930);Google ScholarAugur, Helen, An American Jezebel: The Life of Anne Hutchinson (New York, 1930).Google Scholar

2. Morgan, Edmund S., “The Case Against Anne Hutchinson,” New England Quarterly 10 (1937): 633649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Cohen, Ronald D., “Church and State in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts: Another Look at the Antinomian Controversy,” Journal of Church and State 12 (1970): 475494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3. Battis, Emery, Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Chapel Hill, 1962).Google Scholar

4. See, for example, Hall's, David D. introduction to The Antinomian Controversy, 1636- 1638:A Documentary History, ed. Hall, David D. (Middletown, Conn., 1968), pp. 324;Google ScholarRosenmeier, Jesper, “New England's Perfection: The Image of Adam and the Image of Christ in the Antinomian Crisis, 1634–1638,” William and Mary Quarterly 27 (1970): 435459;CrossRefGoogle ScholarStoever, William K. B., “Nature, Grace and John Cotton: The Theological Dimension in the New England Antinomian Controversy,” Church History 44 (1975): 2223;CrossRefGoogle ScholarMaclear, James Fulton, “‘The Heart of New England Rent’: The Mystical Element in Early Puritan History,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1956): 621654;CrossRefGoogle Scholaridem, “Anne Hutchinson and the Mortalist Heresy,” New England Quarterly 54 (1981): 74–103. For placement within a larger theological context, see Miller, Perry, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), pp, 5981;Google Scholar and Pettit, Norman, The Heart Prepared: Grace and Conversion in Puritan Spiritual Life (New Haven, 1966), pp. 125157.Google Scholar

5. Morris, Richard B., “Jezebel before the Judges: Anne Hutchinson tried for Sedition,” in his Fair Trial (New York, 1967), pp. 332;Google ScholarWithington, Ann Fairfax and Schwartz, Jack, “The Political Trial of Anne Hutchinson,” New England Quarterly 51 (1978): 226240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6. Koehler, Lyle, “The Case of the American Jezebels: Anne Hutchinson and Female Agitation during the Years of the Antinomian Turmoil, 1636–1640,” William and Mary Quarterly 31 (1974): 5578;CrossRefGoogle ScholarErikson, Kai T., Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance (New York, 1966), pp. 33107.Google Scholar

7. Bremer, Francis J., ed., Troubler of the Puritan Zion (New York, 1981).Google Scholar

8. For a clear, concise discussion of deviance, see Erikson, , Wayward Puritans, pp. 329.Google Scholar

9. Ibid., p. 6.

10. For a general overview, see Morgan, Edmund S., The Puritan Dilemma (Boston, 1958)Google Scholar, and Rutman, Darrett, Winthrop's Boston: Portrait of a Puritan Town, 1630–1649 (New York, 1965).Google Scholar

11. Morgan, Edmund S., Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (New York, 1963).Google Scholar

12. On Roger Williams's ministry, trial, and banishment, see Morgan, , Puritan Dilemma, pp. 115133Google Scholar, or Rutman, , Winthrop's Boston, pp. 93134.Google Scholar

13. A good review of Hooker's, Thomas motives remains Miller's, Perry “Thomas Hooker and the Democracy of Connecticut,” in his Errand into the Wilderness (New York, 1956), pp. 1647.Google Scholar

14. Kai Erikson, in Wayward Puritans, argues for this interpretation, though he still works within the classic functional model of deviance. Among historians, David Hall, in his introduction to Antinomian Controversy, sees the crisis as a turning point, establishing Puritan orthodoxy once and for all. Throughout his discussion, however, Hutchinson plays a secondary role to John Cotton and John Wheelwright.

15. Detailed descriptions of the Antinomians can be found in Battis, Saints and Sectaries. Bailyn, Bernard, The New England Merchants of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Mass., 1956)Google Scholar, found many prominent merchants in the Antinomian ranks.

16. Winthrop, John, A Short Story of the Rise, reign, and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists, and Libertines (1644)Google Scholar, in Hall, , Antinomian Controversy, pp. 214218, 262276, 308310.Google Scholar True, reasons of political expedience called for this publication, but that alone does not explain the angry, harsh prose.

17. Winthrop, , Short Story, pp. 214215.Google Scholar See also his description of the monstrous birth of Dyer, Mary in Short Story, pp. 280282,Google Scholar and in his History of New England, ed. Homer, James Kendall, 2 vols. (New York, 1908), 1:266270.Google Scholar

18. Erikson, , Wayward Puritans, pp. 33107.Google Scholar

19. In her Prophetic Woman: Anne Hutchinson and the Problem of Dissent in the Literature of New England (Berkeley, 1987)Google Scholar, Amy Shrager Lang demonstrates that Hutchinson's deviance is as much historiography as history. Winthrop needed to present her activities as firmly outside acceptable boundaries, and Edward Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence of Sion's Saviour and Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana depended upon Winthrop's writings for both information and interpretation. When later historians took issue with earlier versions, they challenged the Puritans’ treatment of a dissenter, and they did not rethink this perception of Hutchinson as deviant.

20. See, for example, Foster, Stephen, “New England and the Challenge of Heresy, 1630–1660: The Puritan Crisis in Trans-atlantic Perspective,” William and Mary Quarterly 38 (1981): 624660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21. Winthrop, , Short Story, pp. 262265.Google Scholar

22. Foster, “New England and the Challenge of Heresy.”

23. A Discovery of Six Women-Preachers (1641). See also Thomas Edwards's 1646 publications: The First and Second Part of Gangraena, The Third Part of Gangraena, and Antapologia. In his “Women and the Civil War Sects,” Past and Present 13 (1958): 4262,Google Scholar Keith Thomas uses these and other sources to develop a composite portrait of female religious leadership and participation during the Civil War era.

24. Nuttall, Geoffrey F., The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (Oxford, 1946)Google Scholar, demonstrates the importance of the Holy Spirit to all Puritans and describes differences among nonconformists according to perceptions of the Spirit's work in their lives.

25. “Examination of Hutchinson,” in Hall, , Antinomian Controversy, pp. 314, 316.Google Scholar

26. Ibid., p. 337.

27. Ibid., pp. 341, 345.

28. Morgan, , “Case Against Hutchinson,” p. 647;Google ScholarMorris, , “Jezebel before the Judges,” p. 24;Google ScholarMorison, Samuel Eliot, Builders of the Bay Colony (Boston, 1930), p. 123,Google Scholar as cited in Withington, and Schwartz, , “Political Trial of Hutchinson,” p. 235.Google Scholar

29. Battis, , Saints and Sectaries, p. 346.Google Scholar

30. Withington, and Schwartz, , “Political Trial of Hutchinson,” pp. 236, 237238.Google Scholar

31. “Examination of Hutchinson,” pp. 337338.Google Scholar This passage is also cited in Winthrop's, Short Story, p. 273Google Scholar, but he places it directly before, not after, her proclamation of immediate revelation.

32. Most literature on English Protestant mysticism focuses upon the Quakers, although Jones, Rufus M. in his Spiritual Reformers in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Boston, 1914)Google Scholar and his Mysticism and Democracy in the English Commonwealth (Cambridge, Mass., 1932)Google Scholar explores other mystical sectarians. See also Nuttall, Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith. For an excellent precis of Puritan mysticism, see Brauer, Jerald C., “Types of Puritan Piety,” Church History 56 (1987): 3958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

33. Winthrop, , Short Story, pp. 271273.Google Scholar Considering human error and Winthrop's hostility, the accuracy of his linguistic transcription is open to question. Nevertheless, the pattern of the experience described echoes a paradigm that stands without the necessity of a particular phrase or word. This pattern also appears in the speech recorded in “Examination of Hutchinson,” pp. 336–338.

34. One sees here touches of the prophet as well as the mystic. On Hutchinson as a prophet, see Huber, Elaine, Women and the Authority of Inspiration (Lanham, Md., 1987), pp. 65122.Google Scholar For a general discussion of female prophecy, see Mack, Phyllis, “Women as Prophets During the English Civil War,” Feminist Studies 8 (1982): 1945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

35. Miller, Perry, The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Mass., 1939).Google Scholar See also McGiffert, Michael, “Introduction,” in God's Plot: The Paradoxes of Puritan Piety: Being the Autobiography and Journal of Thomas Shepherd, ed. McGiffert, Michael (Amherst, 1972), pp. 329;Google ScholarHall, David D., The Faithful Shepherd: A History of New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill, 1972);Google ScholarCohen, Charles Lloyd, God's Caress: The Psychology of Puritan Religious Experience (New York, 1986).Google Scholar

36. Foster, , “New England and the Challenge of Heresy,” pp. 631636.Google Scholar An excellent source on English sectarian mystics is Watkins, Owen C., The Puritan Experience: Studies in Spiritual Autobiography (New York, 1972).Google Scholar See also Nuttall, , Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith, esp. pp. 178180Google Scholar, and Jones, Mysticism and Democracy, lectures 3,4.

37. Brauer, , “Types of Puritan Piety,” pp. 5158.Google Scholar

38. Ironically, in most studies of Puritan piety, female piety is not discussed, despite the predominance of women among sectarians. While Thomas and Mack have focused essays upon female religious activity, few historians have incorporated female experience into general studies. Two exceptions are Foster, “New England and the Challenge of Heresy,” and Watkins, Puritan Experience.

39. Clarendon State Papers, II, 383, as cited in Thomas, , “Women and the Civil War Sects,” p. 47.Google Scholar

40. Douglas, Eleanor, The Blasphemous Charge Against Her (1636), p. 2.Google Scholar

41. Douglas, , The Lady Eleanor, Her Appeal to the High Court of Parliament (1641), p. 11.Google Scholar

42. Douglas, , The Gatehouse Salutation from the Lady Eleanor (1646), p. 3.Google Scholar

43. Trapnel, Anna, The Cry of a Stone: of a Relation of Something spoken in Whitehall (London, 1654), pp. 36, 40, 64.Google Scholar See also Trapnel, , Anna Trapnel's Report and Plea, or, A Narrative of her Journey from London into Cornwall (1654).Google Scholar

44. See Channel, Elinor, Wonderful Works of God (1641);Google ScholarChannel, , A Message From God (1653);Google ScholarChannel, , Chaos (1659);Google ScholarWarren, Elizabeth, The Old σ Good Way Vindicated (1646);Google ScholarWarren, , Spiritual Thrift (1647);Google ScholarWarren, , A warning peece from Heaven (1649);Google ScholarWentworth, Anne, The Revelation of Jesus Christ unto Anne Wentworth (1679).Google Scholar For additional examples, see Thomas, “Women and the Civil War Sects”; Mack, “Women as Prophets”; and Watkins, Puritan Experience.

45. Maclear, , “Heart of New England Rent,” p. 641.Google Scholar

46. Ephesians 2:5; 1 Corinthians 14:34.

47. Barker-Benfield, Ben, “Anne Hutchinson and the Puritan Attitude Toward Women,” Feminist Studies 1 (1972): 77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

48. Ibid., pp. 83–84.

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