Anne Hutchinson's secret theology
|Anne Hutchinson statue at the Massachusetts Statehouse.|
© 2015 Christy K Robinson
Anne Marbury Hutchinson, at her second trial before the Massachusetts Bay Colony theocratic government, was excommunicated from the Puritan First Church of Boston, on 22 March 1638*. She left her six-month house arrest, heresy conviction, and excommunication behind as she stalked out of Boston with the Passover.
The trial venue had been moved to New Towne (Cambridge) to get away from Anne’s many supporters in Boston. It was held when many of the men of the Hutchinson Party were away, having purchased Aquidneck/Rhode Island and begun surveying house lots and setting up wigwams and huts as temporary shelter for when the women and children would join them. This was one of the coldest winters ever to strike New England. One nor’easter blizzard after another, and a complete freeze of Boston Harbor, struck the colony. On one hand, people didn’t need a ferry to cross the ice of the Charles River; on the other hand, who could walk through the deep snows? (As I write this article, on 30 March 2015, there is more snow forecast this week for Boston, which has already measured more than nine feet of snow in 2015.)
This was no one-day trial, either, as you might gather from previous accounts in books and internet. Rev. Thomas Welde, one of the inquisitors, wrote in his preface to John Winthrop’s book Short Story of the Rise, Reign and Ruin of the Antinomians,
“The first week we spent in confuting the loose opinions that wee gathered up in the Country… The other fortnight wee spent in a plane syllogisticall dispute… In the forenoones wee framed our arguments, and in the afternoones produced them in publike, and next day the Adversary [Anne Hutchinson] gave in their answers, and produced also their arguments on the same questions; then wee answered them and replyed also upon them the next day. These disputes are not mentioned at all in the following Discourse, happily, because of the swelling of the book [the book would be too long and costly to publish].”
The trial ran three weeks, and for everyone from magistrates to defendant to the general community, it was a foregone conclusion that Anne Hutchinson would be convicted of heresy.
On March 15, Anne was summoned again to trial on Lecture Day, the midweek church service in their community where attendance was required, and the day when criminals were put in stocks, whipped, or executed by hanging. (Mary Dyer was hanged on a Lecture Day.) Anne had a high enough status, as a wealthy and educated woman whose husband had been a magistrate, that she was in no danger of corporal punishment. Instead of coming on time, she arrived after the long prayer and longer sermon. John Winthrop said she was “pretending bodily infirmity.” She may have been ditching the religious service that day, but she had been confined to a hostile home for five months, she was middle-aged and perhaps tired of the stress of the trial, her supportive and loving husband was out of town, and it was insanely cold and snowy, so she may have been ill.
One day during that trial, Anne Hutchinson walked out the door at the end of the day, and Mary Dyer, the other of the two “chief fomenting women,” took her hand in support. And that’s when the mud hit the fan. Gov. Winthrop learned that Mary had miscarried a deformed fetus five months before, and that Rev. Cotton had buried it secretly, at night. During Anne’s trial, Winthrop ordered the exhumation of the poor little bundle, and at least 100 men (those who were trying Anne, no doubt) “examined” it. Winthrop and Welde used that observation to describe Mary's “monster” in Winthrop’s book.
On March 22, the day Anne was convicted, according to John Winthrop’s Journal, he
“sent a warrant to Mrs. Hutchinson to depart this jurisdiction before the last of this month, according to the order of the court, and for that end set her at liberty from her former constraint [house arrest at Roxbury], so as she was not to go forth of her own house till her departure; and upon the 28th she went by water to farm at the Mount [Wollaston, where the Hutchinsons owned a farm], where she was to take water [a ship], with Mr. Wheelwright’s wife and family, to go to Pascataquack [Dover, New Hampshire, where Rev. Wheelwright had gone into exile]; but she changed her mind, and went by land to Providence, and so to the island in the Narragansett Bay, which her husband and the rest of that sect had purchased of the Indians, and prepared with all speed to remove unto. For the court had ordered, that, except they were gone with their families by such a time, they should be summoned to the general court, etc.”
|1866: Gustav Dore' illustration |
I’ve never seen historians or researchers count the days like I have, but here’s what I discovered. When the June 1, 1638 major earthquake hit New England, Anne Hutchinson thought that the shaking was the latter rain of the Holy Spirit, which many Christians call Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. Pentecost was the commemoration of when the earth shook and tongues of flame rested over the assembled Christians in a Jerusalem upper room, after the first Easter (Christ's resurrection). In that experience, they received supernatural gifts of languages, healing, teaching, and other tools to grow the church.
Historians have never connected the Easter and Pentecost dates to the Hutchinson story because Puritans did not celebrate those holidays—ever. They considered religious holidays to be pagan in origin, promoted by the papists they hated, and not scripturally mandated. When Puritans gained the upper hand in the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, they officially abolished celebration of Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, and all other traditional Catholic and Anglican holidays. Other sects of the era—Presbyterians, Reformed, Quakers, Baptists, and Anabaptists—also spurned church holidays.
However, Anne knew the date of Pentecost, or she wouldn’t have exclaimed that the severe earthquake was the Holy Spirit coming down on them—at the time of Pentecost. And if she knew Pentecost, she knew the date of Easter. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox. The night of the full moon is Passover, which she also knew. “And on that very day the Lord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12:51.
Anne and her family and followers left Boston at Passover, the end of March. Rather than sailing around Cape Cod to Narragansett Bay, the Massachusetts exiles walked in the freezing, hostile wilderness. They left Boston, Charlestown, and Roxbury like the ancient Israelites left the bondage of Egypt, shaking off their shackles and slavery to the law. This exodus from Boston was made as a strong statement to John Winthrop and the rest of the theocratic magistrates. If the Hutchinsonians left on March 29, the Passover, the full moon, it was also Lecture Day, when hundreds more people were in town to witness it! It would have been plain in Winthrop’s eyes, surely, but the fact never made it into his books. (Winthrop himself likened Massachusetts' crop failures, insect invasions, and severe weather to the plagues of Egypt. A month after Anne's departure, Winthrop fell deathly ill, perhaps from the severe stress of the Hutchinson trial and losing scores of the colony's leading businessmen to exile.)
|Snowy forest, late March 2015. |
Photo courtesy of Jo Ann Butler, author of the Rebel Puritan novels.
When Anne and her followers walked all the way from Massachusetts Bay to Providence (45-60 miles), they left during what we call Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. (Easter was on April 4 that year.) When the Hutchinsonians, including that “fomenter” Mary Dyer and her husband William and 27-month-old son Samuel, struck out through the forest, it was still a frozen wilderness. The snow lay three feet deep in some places, and they were on foot because horses were expensive and rare. They may have had an ox to pull a sled, but it’s unlikely. They would have spent at least two nights on the rough trail before they reached the small village of Providence, and then moved on to the north end of Aquidneck Island, where they founded the town that would be renamed Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
|The Portsmouth Compact,|
1638, in William Dyer's
When, before her hanging in 1660, Mary Dyer walked from Providence to Boston to defy the theocracy and call attention to the "bloody law" of religious persecution, she used the same road she'd walked out on. She knew exactly what she was doing: going back into the persecution and prison of Egypt. In her letter to the Massachusetts Bay general court, she wrote two references to the Hebrew Exodus:
“Its not my owne life I seek for (I chuse rather to suffer with the people of god then to injoy the pleasures of eqypt)” … and
“the lord wil overturne you and your law by his righteous Judgments and plagues poured justly on you.”
Christy K Robinson is the author of The Dyers trilogy of books and Kindle ebooks. They chronicle the greatest people of the Great Migration: Mary and William Dyer, John Winthrop, Anne Hutchinson, Edward Hutchinson, Katherine Scott, Henry Vane, and many others. For links to these five-star-reviewed books, click HERE.
* All dates in this article are according to the Julian Calendar used in the 17th century, not the Gregorian Calendar we use now, so if you plot it on a modern calendar, the days of the week are about 10 days different. Most regular lecture days were held on Thursdays, and Sabbath church services were on Sunday. Court was not in session on Sunday, but that would not have stopped the ministers preaching against Anne and her followers. It certainly didn’t stop Rev. John Wilson and John Cotton.
Anne Hutchinson Banished March 22, 1638 Mass Moments
Short Story of the Rise, Reign and Ruin of the Antinomians, by John Winthrop, Sr.
History of New England, John Winthrop’s Journal, Vol. 1
The American Puritan: Did You Know? Christianity Today 1994.
Easter: The Devil’s Holiday A Puritan’s Mind, by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
Why do Presbyterians Observe Holy Days? by Andrew C. Webb