Anne Hutchinson’s trial and the unraveling of the Antinomian Controversy is an event in Pre-Civil War American History that I would choose to be present for because I feel that I identify with Hutchinson and admire her powerful intellect. Experiencing first-hand the injustices she faced, and being a witness to her strong response, is particularly interesting to me because the argument she posed against the indoctrination and oppression from the Puritan male hierarchy was so fundamental to the development of women’s political rights that it is impossible to ignore it even today, more than 377 years later.
Anne Hutchinson’s intellectual independence was well ahead of her time. Hutchinson’s ability to reveal the subordination of women in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by exposing the contradictions in the Puritan leadership’s theological arguments gives me strong admiration for her. Puritan society had one of the highest female literacy rates in history, but, as Anne Hutchinson’s experience demonstrates, literacy was not expected to inspire independent thought, but rather, was another way men asserted their dominance over women. Not satisfied to control women legally and economically, the Puritan leadership used Scripture in an attempt to control them spiritually as well. Women, indoctrinated from childhood to accept the minister’s unchecked authority over them, abided by these standards and gave men the upper hand. This tactic backfired with Hutchinson, however, who used her intellect and knowledge of both Scripture and Puritan theology against the ministers by developing her own opinions and recognizing the spiritual control that Puritan leaders imposed. Her religious fervor attracted many fellow Puritans to meetings she led in her home to preach her interpretation of the Bible and the redeeming Covenant of Grace, which was a threat to the misogynistic society in which women were not even allowed to speak in Church.
During Hutchinson’s trial in 1638, she confronted the judgment of the most powerful men in the colony, including the well-known John Winthrop. They prosecuted her on the grounds that she encouraged this religious conflict and was not only instructing women, but also men, which vastly exceeded the station of a woman and posed a double threat to the ministers. The Bay Colony was an extreme patriarchal theocracy, given that the male ministers had all the true authority, and I believe Hutchison’s gender is part of what made her such a threat. Her voice is important to recognize because it shows her becoming a leader in her own right, and this would have been a remarkable transformation to witness.
I’m inspired by the example she set, and would like to have seen first-hand the cogent fight she put up. I would like to be able to hear her voice as Winthrop and the other ministers twisted her words and accused her of a feckless defense and outright blasphemy. I think it’s important to acknowledge how a woman who preached about having a personal connection with God was seen as an enemy and threat to the church hierarchy, when her male counterpart, John Cotton, was not even put on trial. Cotton was a minister in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that was as deeply involved in the Antinomian Controversy as Hutchinson, but his status and gender shielded him from any charges of heresy, allowing him to remain a minister in Boston. Hutchinson was banished from the colony and excommunicated by the Church of Boston for preaching ideas formed by Cotton in the first place.
As a woman today living in the 21st century, I know Hutchinson’s fight for a woman’s voice to be heard over a man’s is still a pressing issue, as is religious freedom and the fight against indoctrination. I want to experience the unraveling of the Antinomian Controversy and Hutchinson’s trial to hear the words of an early American feminist planting the seeds for religious liberty, and making one of the first of many attempts in America to combat misogynist authority.