Ms. Hutchinson, formerly of Pocasset which is now Portsmouth, was born in England and immigrated to the Mass Bay Colony in 1634. Her early liberal upbringing and Puritan leanings inspired her to take a strong part in the religious life of the community, which led to her banishment from the Colony. She later took up residence with her family in Rhode Island and became one of the most influential religious activists of her time.
Born Anne Marbury in Alford, Lincolnshire, England, Anne Marbury Hutchinson was the daughter of an English clergyman, Francis Marbury, who was censured by the Anglican authorities for his Puritan leanings. With her father’s strong commitment to learning, she received a better education than most contemporary females, and also became intimately familiar with scripture and Christian tenets. In August 1612, Anne Marbury, aged 21, married William Hutchinson, the son of a prosperous merchant. During the next twenty-two years, she dutifully bore her husband eight children.
Anne’s early religious training, her vigorous intellect and her restless and inquiring mind led her to take a leading role in the theological life of her intensely religious community. She was greatly attracted to the teachings of John Cotton, who preached God’s “absolute grace,” a new doctrine that was held by a small minority of Puritans. This meant that salvation came principally through the individual’s own personal awareness of God’s divine grace and love. She was also influenced by her husband’s young brother-in-law, the young minister John Wheelwright. The message of grace caused Hutchinson to question the value of the orthodox “covenant of works,” where church members gave evidence of their predestined salvation by their works and their status in the community.
Then in 1633, with the Puritans in disfavor because of the High Church leanings of King Charles I, Cotton was exiled to America. Hutchinson believed that the Spirit instructed her to follow Cotton. The Hutchinsons set sail for Boston following the birth of her 14th child in 1634.
Hutchinson began holding meetings in her own home, where she reviewed recent sermons with her listeners, and provided her own explanations of the message. She and her associates denied that Christian freedom should be restricted by a need to seek evidence or salvation in obedience to God’s law as interpreted by “hypocritical” ministers. Since they placed their own intuitive interpretation of God’s law above the civil and religious laws devised by man, those who believed in the covenant of grace were labeled Antinomians (from the Greek anti, meaning against, and nomos, meaning law). Hutchinson’s view emphasized the direct connection between man (or woman) and God, undermined the authority and importance of the established religious and civil leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony because she discounted the need for specially designated and highly educated ministry. Anne Hutchinson was labeled a “jezebel” and a witch for her beliefs. In 1637-1638, she was brought on trial, excommunicated from the church, and banished from Massachusetts, along with her followers, including William Coddington.
The banished Antinomians arrived in Portsmouth in the spring of 1638. Soon after, she clashed with Coddington, who held the Indian title to Aqudneck Island in his own name. Hutchinson ousted Coddington from power and he went to the southern tip of the island and established Newport in 1639. However, the ambitious Coddington managed to consolidate the two towns under one government, headed by him. Samuel Gorton and several Portsmouth settlers plotted armed rebellion against Coddington. They were ultimately banished from the island. Anne Hutchinson soon broke with the Gortonists over the use of violence.
Soon thereafter, her fortunes plummeted disastrously. During her tenure in Portsmouth, Hutchinson developed a new philosophy concerning religion. She persuaded her husband to resign from his position as a magistrate and they later moved to the Newport settlement. William Hutchinson died, her religious leadership waned and Massachusetts threatened to absorb the Rhode Island settlements. Disgruntled and disillusioned, she sought refuge in the Dutch colony of New Netherlands in 1642. In the late summer of 1643, her home (near present day Pelhan Bay, New York) was raided by Indians, who killed her, two of her sons and three of her daughters in brutal fashion. The Massachusetts Bay authorities considered Hutchinson’s death just vengeance of God.
Hutchinson’s legacy lives on. By the 19th century, Anne Hutchinson became a symbol for religious liberty, as the nation celebrated its new achievement of the separation of church and state. In 1922, Massachusetts, seeking atonement for the treatment of Anne Hutchinson, commissioned the famous sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin to create a sculpture of Hutchinson enfolding her child within her robes. It now stands front of the State House in Boston. Finally, in present day she has become a feminist leader, credited with terrifying the patriarchs, not because of her religious views, but because she was an assertive, highly visible woman. In Portsmouth, Anne Hutchinson and her friend, Mary Dyer, the Quaker martyr, have been remembered at Founders Brook Park with the Anne Hutchinson/Mary Dyer Memorial Herb Garden, a medicinal botanical garden, created by artist and herbalist Michael Steven Ford, who is a descendant of both women. The memorial was a grass roots effort by a local Newport organization, the Anne Hutchinson Memorial Committee headed by Newport artist, Valerie Debrule. Friends of Anne Hutchinson, meets annually at the memorial in Portsmouth, on the Sunday nearest to 20 July, the date of Anne’s baptism, to celebrate her life and the local colonial history of the women of Aquidneck Island. Hutchinson is honoured together with Roger Williams with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America on February 5.