The Clare Spark Blog

September 29, 2009

Anne Hutchinson’s Red Regiment and the Cultural Historians, part two

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     What follows is a review of the historical and popular literature on Anne Hutchinson in the twentieth century.  First, I present the salient facts and judgments in Winnifred King Rugg’s 1930 biography and in those of her New England nativist contemporaries.  Rugg’s corporatist liberal assumptions and ambivalence toward her subject is typical of other books published in 1930 and 1931 on the same subject; she prefigures and combines the major historiographical traditions identified in this paper: one is ‘liberal’ and ‘Freudian,’ reductive and irrationalist; the other is ‘feminist.’  Second, I criticize in detail aspects of those interpretations which see gender conflict or Mrs. Hutchinson’s personality as central to the Antinomian controversy.  By juxtaposing the circumstances of Hutchinson’s life in England and Boston as presented by Rugg, the assemblage of historical argumentation, and my closing remarks which point to a possible new synthesis, the polemically reductive, ahistorical, and above all irrationalist character of academic writing on the subject of Anne Hutchinson may clearly emerge.



        A spate of books on Anne Hutchinson appeared in 1930 and 1931 apparently in response to recent Red Scares and repressive legislation instigated by puritanical Prohibitionists.  Three were written by women; one was framed as a less biased account than previous treatments by hostile males.  Helen Augur wrote a florid fictionalized biography An American Jezebel: The Life of Anne Hutchinson (1930) casting the noble-blooded Hutchinson as the glorious forerunner of the (more fanatical) Quaker movement and a true feminist and pacifist; unlike the hypocritical Roger Williams, she was a genuine democrat.  Ever the saintly herbalist and healer, she was Christ crucified by horrid legalistic Puritans and their cruel and unbending Mosaic law: Winthrop’s vengefulness followed Anne into Rhode Island and the Dutch territory where she and her family were killed by Indians; his long arm was the ultimate cause of her death.  For Augur, Winthrop/ Moses/ The Jews eclipse the mystic, spiritual, shining martyr.  That same year a short, spare work less favorable to Anne appeared.  In Edith Roelker Curtis’ Anne Hutchinson, A Biography, her subject was both “magnetic and aggressive.”  Curtis emphasized the political rivalry between Winthrop and Hutchinson in a setting of almost dream-like austerity and material deprivation.  Like the other writers of the 1930s, Curtis was appalled that the Puritan faction was so harsh; it was ironic that they (outsiders become insiders) were treating the Hutchinsonians as the Puritans had been treated in England; their lack of statesmanship would lead to the barbarism and barbaric superstition of the Salem witch trials in 1692.  Like Curtis, Winnifred King Rugg’s 1930 biography demystified Hutchinson as blameless victim; like Augur, she stressed the presence of a supportive women’s culture.  The following pages reconstruct Rugg’s internally contradictory account.

     Rugg saw Anne Hutchinson as a pioneer feminist, “the first American clubwoman,” and the “Mother of Transcendentalism.”  Both her positive qualities (intellectual competence, self-assurance, assertiveness, and charitableness) and negative qualities (radical extremism, arrogance, and self-destructiveness) are understood as stemming from her family history, particularly the unconscious identification with her colorful father.  As a healer and a preacher of a gentle, optimistic religion of the heart, she gave such expression to pent-up and terrified Calvinist women that their outpourings culminated in a cultural revolt.  Though it was probably doomed from the outset, Anne’s personality was central to the rise and fall of a “feministic” movement.

     Anne was born in 1591 to Bridget Dryden and Francis Marbury. Mother’s background was strongly Puritan while Father was an audacious and irrepressible minister of the Church of England; it was a “modestly comfortable” family of the lesser gentry.  Marbury had been repeatedly imprisoned and silenced for his criticisms of the incompetence of other (perhaps lower-class) ministers; his hot-headed and witty defiance of Bishop Aylmer in 1578 (Marbury was twenty-two) on a behalf of a “clear ministry” at a hearing before the Ecclesiastical Court led to yet another imprisonment.  This dramatic incident is represented by Rugg as the family story that scripted Anne’s later behavior.[ii]

     After one fifteen-year silencing, Marbury was restored to the ministry, taking a church in London probably through his brother’s connections; presumably, he was “chastened and reconciled.”  Anne was fourteen when she and her large family left the town of Alford. (Already skilled in child-rearing, she had helped her mother manage a brood of seven younger siblings.) During the next five and a half years in London, then “boiling in religious controversy,” she was exposed to vigorous debates and criticisms of the preaching clergy and to “current events.”  Rugg believes she participated in these discussions, having been familiar with the Geneva Bible since early childhood.  After Marbury died in 1611, Anne was promptly courted by a childhood friend, William Hutchinson of Alford, a mercer of lesser social standing than the Marburys and Drydens.  They married and had fourteen children in Alford, three of whom died.  Anne managed “a little commonwealth” of children and servants; her duties included the supervision of household manufactures, tending the family’s health, and participation in community charity.  The girls attended dame school, the boys grammar school, and evenings were devoted to family prayer and Bible reading.  But rural Alford was a let-down after the intellectual and emotional intensity of her father’s home.  She sought relief in the lectures and preaching of the eloquent and learned John Cotton, the Vicar of St. Botolph’s in Boston, twenty-four miles away.

     Possibly in 1616 or 1617 Anne passed through a year-long spiritual crisis and was tempted to turn Separatist, but this would have meant rejecting her father’s church and allying with the “fanatical,” despised and persecuted lower orders.  Sequestered in her room and poring over Scriptures for guidance, she decided to become a non-conformist, “relying wholly upon the word of God as given in the Bible” and rejecting the forms and ceremonies of the bishops.  Only preachers who purified the church of “forms established by man” could be relied upon as the “clear ministry.”  Her painful confusion over competing sources of authority (the voices of Christ, Moses, John the Evangel, and Antichrist) was resolved; John Cotton was her “clear” minister who would be, through the twenty-year period that Anne visited St. Botolph’s, gradually simplifying the church service, discarding the surplice, the cross in baptism, and the requirement that communicants kneel.  His ever more blatant non-conformity aroused powerful opposition, and he fled England, arriving in colonial Boston in 1633.  Anne was left “bereft” and spiritually famished.  That same year, her brother-in-law John Wheelwright, another non-conforming cleric, was silenced.

     Once again consulting the Bible for guidance, Anne believed she was directed to follow Cotton to Boston.  Though her motives were primarily religious, Anne recognized the business opportunities for her husband and children; moreover she was reassured by the backing of local gentry and “great Lords” such as Warwick, Say and Sele, and Brook.  The Hutchinsons emigrated in 1634 on board the Griffin, where Anne became the center of attention, prophesying and justifying her removal from England and the exposure of her children to the rigors of a “strange land” on the grounds that England was soon to be “plucked up by the roots and cast forth”–Thomas Hooker’s prophecy.  Already she had antagonized several fellow-passengers on the ship, Reverend Zachariah Symmes and William Bartholomew, having admitted to both, “Nothing great ever befel me that was not made known to me beforehand”; Symmes delayed her admission into the Boston church and Bartholomew later testified against her at her civil trial.

     Anne quickly assumed a position of social leadership in Boston, by then a farming village and commercial center of less than a thousand people.  Her merchant husband acquired grants of land in Wollaston and Dorchester (1636-37), first building a large home and shop in the style of an English farmhouse across from Governor Winthrop “at the very heart of things.”  Anne was “the most popular woman in the colony, more resorted to ‘for counsell and advice than any of the ministers,’“ according to Winthrop.  William Hutchinson prospered and was made Deputy to the General Court and Judge of the District Court while Anne socialized frequently with John Cotton (who shared the ministry of the Boston church with John Wilson), with other merchants, and with the attractive young Calvinist, mystic and seeker, Henry Vane, a Puritan aristocrat and briefly governor of the colony.

     But Anne was simultaneously laying the groundwork for religious heresy and persecution.  Her more “humble admirers” were acquired through her activities as “Lady Bountiful” serving as midwife, healer, and comforter to those with “homesick, aching hearts,” discussing their many “vexations” which included their husbands, the pressure of caring for “hordes of children,” the self-denial of the sumptuary laws, rules about the wearing of veils in church, the painful extremes of the New England climate, wolves, mosquitoes, and the unfamiliar diet.  Unlike ministers and husbands, Anne was a sympathetic listener, which allowed women to express their grievances freely.  Rugg also noted that Anne’s social standing was crucial in legitimating both her teachings and the complaints of women.  Within two years, she was “drinking that most heady of all wines, the deference of her associates.”  But worst of all, Anne was telling sick and dying women that if they loved Christ, and felt that love in their hearts, there was proof of salvation!  They had true religion and would be reunited with their children in heaven.

       By the fall of 1636, Anne had turned her home into a rival church and was dominating Boston social life; her famous weekly prayer meetings for women from all ranks originated, Rugg believed, in a rebuke from John Cotton.  Her mentor had noted her absence from a small evening prayer meeting at the home of a more humble neighbor.  After meditating upon her possible snobbery and the poverty of religious experience for silenced women, Anne opened her home to all women to rectify “the meagerness of social intercourse and sources of inspiration” from which they suffered.  By the time her brother-in-law, the minister John Wheelwright, arrived in Boston, May 1636, her now twice-weekly prayer meetings (one with men added by popular demand) were the major social and intellectual event in the colony.  Fifty to eighty people crowded her parlor and listened outdoors at the windows, including the Boston elite, male and female.  Increasingly, she expanded upon the mere repetition of Cotton’s sermons, adding her own commentary and even criticisms.  Complaining about her popularity, John Winthrop observed, “Hence many families were neglected and much time lost.”

      With Wheelwright on the scene, Anne urged that he be hired to assist John Cotton to “neutralize the effects of Wilson’s sermons….”  Like Anne and Henry Vane, Wheelwright believed that “the Holy Ghost actually dwells in the heart of every true Christian” and “sanctification is no evidence of justification.”  No outside authority evaluating the scrupulosity of a person’s life could know if that person was or was not a Christian.  It was at this time that Winthrop, writing his History of New England, first took note of Anne, for in October 1636 the religious dispute looked like a battle for control of the colony.  Anne pressed her friends to promote the appointment of Wheelwright as Cotton’s assistant; a motion was made at a church meeting.  Ex-Governor Winthrop and minister Wilson were arrayed against Governor Vane and Hutchinson, with Cotton remaining neutral though he had not previously opposed Wheelwright; Rugg believed that Cotton and Wheelwright held nearly identical views and both were less radical than Anne.  Winthrop conceived a face-saving plan to dispatch Wheelwright to the new church at Wollaston where Hutchinsonians held land.  Wheelwright accepted, but the Hutchinsonians, reluctantly acquiescing, were “offended” and the Wheelwright rejection became the main subject of Anne’s meetings, with “the whole town” absorbed in the controversy and “talking only of union with the Holy Ghost and sanctification.”  The home meetings kept growing while Anne became more overt in her criticisms of Wilson and more fearless in propounding her doctrines of “love,” “inner serenity,” and “assurance.”  Winthrop believed that nearly the entire Boston congregation was won over.  But Rugg felt that Anne needlessly exacerbated the conflict when she “let her too ready tongue run away with her” by declaring that only Cotton and Wheelwright were “sealed with the Covenant of Grace.”  When Wilson rose to give a sermon, Anne led a walkout, provoking the “scare-word” label “antinomian.”  The Hutchinsonians, like “Bolsheviks” in 1930, were “stamped” as a “peril,” evoking Familism, free love, and the disastrous Anabaptist experiment at Münster.

      The polarization of Boston is alternately avoidable and inevitable in Rugg’s account.  On the one hand, though Winthrop, Wilson, and Cotton were no “tolerationists,” they wanted the controversy hushed up to protect the Charter. [iii] Furthermore, the fuss was only a “red scare”; there was neither a concrete lower-class threat to the state nor a challenge to social control: the Antinomians were not libertines.  To Anne, morality was the inevitable fruit of a “believing heart,” not required “proof” of “holiness.”  Rugg is saying that there were no rationally opposed interests.  Rather, bored Bostonians enjoyed the excitement of dissension and Anne probably gloried in the scandal, what with all Boston debating Grace versus Works, and large numbers of them allied with her position.  On the other hand, there were opposed interests: Anne sincerely wanted the “harsh” “dogmatic” Wilson offset or neutralized, for he was making leaden the hearts of her female flock; at the same time, Wilson believed she was “working to oust him.”  Furthermore, the ministers were angry because “the shoe pinched,” and a mere woman, an inscrutable mystic, was obliterating their self-esteem.

      Rugg continues in this vein, describing irreconcilable conflict worsened by Hutchinsonian irrationality. Dissenters are bad because they destroy the cohesion that was never there. Such is the tortuous logic of corporatist liberalism.  Anne should have blurred boundaries to protect pluralism, not clarified doctrinal differences that polarized the (already polarized) colony.  Simultaneously Boston is blamed for doing the same. Anne is emotionally exhilarated, hence oblivious to the possible consequences to herself and her family.  First, the Winthrop faction launched a letter-writing campaign to win over John Cotton in the fall of 1636.  That winter, a meeting “calamitous” for Anne was held at Cotton’s home, assembling the “disgruntled clergy” of the colony, Governor Vane, the magistrates and Anne; Cotton would be the pacifying influence.  Anne was at first gracious, tactful and evasive when questioned about the ways she thought Cotton and Wheelwright differed from other clergy.  But under pressure from the minister Hugh Peter, she unwarily adhered to truth and duty.  Recalling Scripture (“the fear of man is a snare”), she widened the breach by candidly admitting that only Cotton (and presumably Wheelwright) preached the Covenant of Grace; then, in mystical and incomprehensible language, she likened all the rest to “the Apostles before the Resurrection, before they were sealed with the Seal of the Spirit.”  Cotton cut the meeting off and the ministers departed, some confused, some charmed, others insulted and all eventually nursing grudges.  By the meeting of the General Court in January 1637, party lines had hardened and only Cotton and Winthrop retained a conciliatory spirit.

       On Fast-Day, January 20, 1637, Winthrop noted that there were only two local causes for alarm: dangerous Indians (the Pequots) and “the dissensions in our churches.”  Both Cotton and Wheelwright preached, the latter’s sermon not provoking complaint at the moment of its delivery.  But also at this time, Anne’s followers were traveling about the colony, heckling ministers and diminishing her popularity outside Boston.  As part of a Winthrop plan to defeat Governor Vane at the next election, Wheelwright was scapegoated; his Fast-Day sermon severely criticized as incendiary and seditious.  To support him, sixty members of the Boston church signed a petition denying these allegations, but the Court, over Vane’s protests, ruled that the sermon tended to “cause disturbance” and moved the site of the May elections to Newtown, insuring Winthrop’s re-election.  Rugg saw Anne’s religious beliefs as widening and encompassing every antagonism in Massachusetts Bay: Boston versus the other towns; Wheelwright versus the clergy; young Vane against old Winthrop and Dudley; the colony versus England; a “potent” yet “unarticulate” class resentment of women and the poor against the magistrates; but most “penetrating and inclusive of all the differences,” the argument between “good hearts” and “good deeds” as hopes for salvation.

      As the narrative of “civil war” proceeds, Rugg portrays Anne as intent upon martyrdom and her following as volatile.  On Election Day, May 27, 1637, Governor Vane tried to revive the Hutchinsonian petition before the election commenced.  A “tumult” and brawl ensued with Deputy-Governor Winthrop forcing the election to proceed, insisting that Vane was out of order.  All the Hutchinsonians were voted out of office with Winthrop returned to power.  A “somewhat childish interchange of reprisals followed.” The Vane halberdiers refused to serve Winthrop; Vane and the merchant Coddington sat with the deacons, not the magistrates, in church; and Boston church members refused to fight in the Pequot War [initiated by the Connecticut Colony, May 1, intended to eliminate the Pequot threat; they had vowed to drive the English from the region].  The new General Court passed an immigration law excluding potential Hutchinsonians, further angering the populace; Henry Vane, Anne’s only civil supporter, left Boston, “glad to go.”  Soon Cotton changed and in six weeks, Wheelwright was banished.  Rugg attributes to Anne the belief that despite these reverses, “she alone, unaided, could uphold the doctrines she had taught.”  It was this irrationality that “makes martyrs.”

      Meanwhile, public excitement was “toning down” as people became less engaged with theatrics and more involved with farming.  Opinion soon softened toward the minister Wilson.  Cotton and Wilson reconciled and the Pequot War had been won without a single English casualty in battle–with Wilson, the preacher of Works, as chaplain in attendance [not true, two Englishmen had died]. [iv] A synod, the first Council of the Congregational Churches in America, was organized to uproot heresies, “clean up the colony and vindicate themselves as ‘able ministers.’”  The synod, held at Newton, lasted twenty-four days and was attended by ministers, lay delegates, magistrates, and Anne (who was not allowed to speak).  Eighty-two heresies were presented as a general smear, the ministers refusing to attach themselves to particular individuals or to allow the calling of witnesses.  This in turn prompted a walkout by some Bostonian men.  Anne was continually attacked, but not by name; women’s meetings were pronounced “disorderly” especially where a woman played minister; sermons were no longer to be discussed or questioned after delivery; church members who had theological differences with their ministers could not leave their churches unless the disagreements were “fundamental”; and worst of all, John Cotton (but not Wheelwright) apparently lined up with the enemy.

     The clerics and other Winthrop allies now moved quickly to purge the Hutchinsonians.  Of the three Hutchinsonian deputies in the General Court, only Coddington remained; Coggeshall and Aspinwall were removed and the new Court immediately banished Wheelwright.  The Court voted that “Mistress Hutchinson be summoned for traducing the ministers and their ministry in the country.”  The criminal trial commenced in Newton, November 1637; Anne admitted, gratuitously, to “immediate revelations,” thereby convicting herself.  At its conclusion, with Anne ordered banished and imprisoned, the halberdiers were disfranchised and fined twenty and forty pounds; all the signers of the Boston Petition were called before the Court and required to recant or be disfranchised; all of Boston’s powder and arms were transferred to Roxbury and Cambridge, and seventy-five men were disarmed out of fear of riot or “suddaine irruption” as might be inspired by “some revelation.” [v]

     On March 15, 1638, the clerics held an ecclesiastical “examination” to complete Anne’s public humiliation after months of fruitless attempts to make her recant while imprisoned at the home of the Roxbury merchant Joseph Weld.  Pregnant, exhausted, and ill, she finally recanted at her trial after prolonged badgering by John Cotton and other ministers, but according to Rugg, “lost her temper” and gave them the ammunition they needed to declare her recantation a lie and cast her out of the church into heathendom.  Of her former devoted female following (just chastised by Cotton) only the future Quaker martyr Mary Dyer rose to accompany Anne as she left the Boston Church.

       Rugg completes her biography with a horrific reconstruction of the massacre that finished Anne’s life, once again intimating that her fearlessness was more foolhardy than exemplary.  Anne’s melodrama ended in 1643 when, newly widowed, she removed with her younger children from Rhode Island (which she expected to fall within the baleful influence of Massachusetts Bay) to Pelham Bay.  This was Dutch-controlled territory where relations between the “greedy” Dutch settlers and local Indians were hostile.  During an apparent lull in the period which Rugg called one of “terror and havoc,” Anne convinced a reluctant carpenter to build her a home.  “Anne, with unfailing friendliness and missionary zeal, welcomed her new Indian neighbors” and tried to convert them.  When war broke out once again, all the white settlers fled to the fort, but Anne, who trusted the Indians, was “unafraid.”  She and all but one of her family were killed, possibly, Rugg speculated, because she was known to be a friend to Captain John Underhill, a banished Antinomian and leader of the (Providential) victory over the Pequots in 1637, now fighting for the Dutch.  Thomas Weld, minister, marked this new severity as a Providential vindication of his colony’s sagacity in punishing her.[vi]

     Rugg’s evaluation of Anne’s behavior during her two “trials” demonstrates the same ambivalence and analytic confusion she revealed earlier.  On the one hand, all but three of the deputies were against her from the outset; the ministers, except for the conciliatory Cotton (who, in Rugg’s view turned on her only after her confession of immediate revelations) were out for a conviction.  Winthrop, acting as both judge and prosecutor, was convinced that dissension was destroying the colony; therefore Hutchinson was either to be rescued or expelled.  She could relinquish her religious beliefs or leave, whatever the outcome of the “trial.”  The court had no charges that could stick, hence was forced to seize upon her spontaneous admission of being privy to the heresy of immediate revelations as justification for her punishment.  Yet, as her ally Coddington pointed out, she had broken no laws, and “words uttered in uplifted moments are not deserving of extreme punishment”; there was no equity here, he charged, but she was banished, imprisoned, and eventually excommunicated nonetheless.  On the other hand, Rugg had already shown that the disempowerment of the Hutchinsonians was a foregone conclusion.  Like more recent historians who have assumed that Cotton “saved” Anne by his testimony that there were no significant differences between Anne and other ministers (i.e., he blurred the boundaries), Rugg scolded Anne for giving the elders grounds for conviction: “Perhaps it was her feeling of elation over her apparent victory…a feeling of relief that lifted her out of all common sense; coupled with her incorrigible disposition to teach, impelling her to proclaim her experience with the enthusiasm her judges hated.”  Later, Rugg noted that even if Anne had been released, she would have pushed her position even more vigorously.[vii]

     While it is true that ministers and magistrates crowed over Anne’s providential admission of immediate revelations, the August 1637 synod had already crushed free speech and assembly (such as it was) where religion was concerned; the civil proceeding was at best a show trial.  Still Rugg maintains her belief in prudence, condemning the “extravagant practice” of Anne’s mysticism, while exonerating John Cotton from charges of dishonorable behavior:

“Roger Williams wrote bitterly of Cotton’s ‘fig-leaf evasions and distinctions,’ but there is something to be said for Cotton.  He was naturally a man of moderation and averse to exuberance.  It was distasteful to him to be made the spokesman of opinions that took on such guises that he revolted against them.  He cannot be blamed for not recognizing the children of his own brain after they had been stepfathered so zealously by the more fiercely partisan of Anne’s faction.” [viii]

   How the Hutchinsonians were simultaneously to save their skins and yet preserve their cherished religious beliefs (for some, grounded in close reading and freely expressed criticisms of illegitimate authority) is never explained.  And of course, Anne’s followers were not a coherent faction with identical economic interests.

     Rugg and her feminist contemporaries bequeathed to future readers a double and contradictory legacy.  First, she brought out the feminist dimension of the controversy, which suggested conflicts of interest between women and men.  She transmitted a strong sense of Hutchinson as the leader of an alternative and oppositional culture which did, to some degree, embolden women and threatened to inspirit others.  But by failing to reconstruct the full social and historical context, e.g., the need for upper-class unity in the face of potential servile revolts given legitimacy by the Reformation, she was unable to explain why “feminist” self-assertion was able to surface and become so fearsome.  She relied upon a non-explanation in describing Anne’s irrational behavior: she was irrational because she was hysterical; thus the social crisis of 1636-38 could somehow have been averted.  Perhaps had Puritan doctrinal rigidity been relaxed with a hot rum toddy of Thomism (boundaries blurred between Grace and Works), romantic revolt from below could have been averted.  There were no irreconcilable conflicts between men and women, clerics and laity, or between upper-class individuals and factions striving for dominance, and only spectral threats from below.

      Writing in response to the dramatic accounts of Augur and Rugg, the genealogist Reginald Pelham Bolton self-published a corrective biography, A Woman Misunderstood: Anne Wife of William Hutchinson (1931).  No lover of dissenters, Bolton both contrasted and conflated austere passion-stirring demagogues (like Anne’s father attacking ministers) with tolerant (yet critical) moderates like his ancestor Robert Bolton:

     “The progress of independent religious opinion, accelerated by the teachings of discontented preachers, and accentuated by the opportunity of perusal of the newly translated Bible, led to widespread religious dissension and extended into political unrest…

     “Her father’s derogatory attitude and his hostility towards the preachers of the day were conducive to a spirit of criticism on the part of a daughter, who seems to have inherited a good measure of his combative spirit and inflexible nature.  As quoted by my ministerial relative, the evangelical preacher, Robert Bolton, during Anne’s life at Alford, he wrote and printed this opinion of some of his fellow clergy in the following uncompromising terms: “Self-preaching Men-pleasers, selfe seeking and Soul murthering Dawbers who blunt and rebate the edge of the sword of the Spirit with dawbing flattery.”  You could have little confidence in the pronouncements or teachings of a minister unless he could clear himself of that accusation, and prove to your soul’s satisfaction that he was not a “Dawber” and was not “preaching with a variety of human learning, tricks of wit, Frier like conceits,” when on the contrary he should be engaged in “beating down Sinne and battering the bulwarks of the Divell.”

    ” If Anne had lived a little nearer Broughton than Boston, she might have fallen under the influence of Robert Bolton, denouncer of deceit and preacher of a “Comfortable walking with God,” rather than the specious John Cotton, and in that case we should have had no Antinomian controversy in New England, and Anne would have died in her bed, unknown to history (17-18).

   Like Anne’s, the personality of the treacherous trimmer John Cotton has been determined by the father, in his case a cunning attorney (another amoral, legalistic, switching Jew?).  In other words, “Anne Wife of William Hutchinson” was a woman under the influence of the wrong man; Robert Bolton and his descendant could have set her straight.  Given the lamentable inability of the lower orders to read metaphors without excitement, her female propensities would inflame an otherwise soluble set of conflicts: “Her Nemesis was her infatuation for eloquent men like Cotton and Whelewright.  Womanlike, she placed them on a pedestal, only to see them fall shattered.  Her spiritual exaltation generated enthusiasm and romanticism, which carried her beyond their teachings, and was communicated to others by her great personal influence (15).”

The congregationalists upon whom New World clerical patronage unhappily and precariously rested (34) could not be trusted.  Most crucially, the Tory Bolton revealed an unspoken irrationalist assumption of much writing about imperceptive Puritans.  Neither Anne nor her brother-in-law intended to foment rebellion; it was always a case of mistaken identity:

“The weapons of our warfare,” [Whelewright] said, “are not carnal, they are spiritual.”  But his hearers were probably less enlightened than he, and his opponents seized upon such phrases as “If we will not fight for the Lord Jesus Christ, Christ may come to be surprized,” and “we must put on the whole armor of God and must have our loins girt and be ready to fight.”  Such incitements are so much in harmony with the inherent pugnacity of mankind that they lose their impersonal character with the unthinking crowd.  There is general applause when a military band plays “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  So it is not surprising that his adjurations were misjudged.

     “To Anne it was an inspiring address, but it threw down the gauntlet to her already jealous theological opponents.  It took but little twisting of its meaning to make it appear an incentive to sedition and to violence.  It further concentrated attention on the “Antinomians,” as Anne and Whelewright were by now termed, and convinced them in prejudiced minds, of being “above and adverse to the law of Mosaic code.”  So whether Anne had influenced her brother-in-law or not, she received the chief reactions of the occurrence. [end, Bolton quotes, more below]

    Bolton’s title “Misjudged” gets clearer and clearer.  Synthesizing his views with the other genealogist Helen Augur, we may conclude that the lower orders are too literal, mistaking highly mediated texts (metaphors) for calls to revolution.  The uppity Winthrop derived from mediocre tradesmen (Augur pp.34-35), is unable to control his carping jealousy and prejudice [the will to power] and so cannot read the superior Anne and her merchant allies as assets to the community: the decapitating middle-class (personified in Winthrop) has doomed the hapless poor to hopelessness and discontent (81).  But Anne too was blind: womanlike, hence a bit mad, the romantic, hypercritical, introspective Anne herself has misjudged the effect her incendiary statements would have upon the commonweal.  As the grand climax, Anne’s distorted idealizing vision in combination with “hostile and dogmatic theocrats” (the inexperienced leaders who had misjudged her), would propel her toward the ghastly dénouement in Dutch-controlled territory:

“Cast out by [bad] decisions into entirely uncontrolled unorthodoxy, she became a center of unregulated opinions and beliefs, which still menaced the security of the clergy.  Their continued efforts, first, to conciliate her, and that failing, to dislodge her from her refuge in Rhode Island, were productive of the fright that finally overcame her resolution and drove her into the unforeseen dangers by which she and her unfortunate children perished.  The precarious situation in which she eventually placed herself and her family becomes explicable by knowledge of those circumstances which impelled her at that time to involve herself in such imminent danger and at the same to deprive her family of any effective means of defense.

    ” In regard to the immediate cause of her death, she was as much a victim of blind ignorance on the part of the natives, who included her in their general hatred of the white people, as of their innate savagery.

     “Christian ministers, fellow-believers in the gospel, and members of her own church terrified and hounded her into the situation which resulted in her death, and ignorant natives destroyed in her one of their few understanding friends.

     “She was a woman greatly misunderstood, misjudged, and mistreated [Bolton, ix].

   How could white people act like this?  Thirty years later, Emery Battis embroidered Bolton’s cautionary tale with a rampant red thread of female rudderlessness.  In other words, Bolton and his old-stock confrères are warning upper-class husbands to watch out for their very own newly enfranchised upper-class wives, biologically determined toward romantic shipwreck without kindly and empathic, but firm, male direction.

   The remainder of this paper examines more recent writers who have made gender conflict and personality the focus of their studies.  How precisely have they analyzed the significance of Anne’s class position, her politics, the character of the religious culture she represented, and the degree of legitimacy enjoyed by husbands, ministers, and magistrates within different social groups in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the mid-1630s? Will their interpretations be based on material conflicts of interest or foolish miscalculation by leaders of warring groups of white people?  To what degree have they transmitted earlier nativist judgments that seem so crude to readers in today’s “multicultural” environment?


12. Winnifred King Rugg, Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson (Cambridge, 1930): 2, 3.  Samuel Eliot Morison reviewed Rugg’s book along with biographies by Helen Augur and Edith Curtis in New England Quarterly 3 (April 1930), describing Rugg as a “member of Boston’s sporting intelligentsia,” and finding Anne Hutchinson “more tedious, the more often her story is told.” But he compared Rugg’s book favorably with other works under review: Rugg’s biography, “though somewhat sentimental, is the most careful and fair-minded.”  She could see the point of view of the Winthrop faction.  He also noted that Hutchinson was no advocate of toleration. “There was nothing in her creed that would have given New England more love, beauty, or civility.  There was much in it that would have inaugurated an era of hot-gospelling and holy-rolling” (358-359).

13. Rugg, Prologue, Chapter I, passim.

14. This was a judgment similar to that of the nineteenth-century historian George E. Ellis, The Puritan Age and Rule in the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay 1629-1685 (Philadelphia: Burt Franklin Press reprint 1970): 300-362.  The Puritans were protecting their image in England.  Ellis’ focuses on the tumultuous aspects of the affair, owing to the fact that “comparisons and personalities were the raw material of strife; and some persons other than the wholly illiterate began to use words new to them.”  Most people were unable to follow the debates “with any clear mental apprehension” (309); he reiterates the point on p. 322. Ellis also draws a distinction between Boston and the country towns, hinting that mass political emotions were a phenomenon of commercial cities.

15. See Major Mason, Brief History of the Pequot War, with an Introduction and some explanatory notes by Rev. Thomas Prince (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, reprint 1971): 9.  According to Mason, there were two killed and twenty wounded during the assault upon the Pequot fort at Mistic, Connecticut.

16. See the Colony Records quoted by John Savage, The History of New England (Boston, 1825): 247-248, footnote.  The source specifically mentioned the German (Anabaptist) revolt.

17. By this point Rugg’s psychological diagnoses have undermined her feminist analysis that had acknowledged the real grievances of women.  Compare her description of the trial with Erikson’s and Morgan’s: Kai Erikson wrote “Perhaps she wanted to take advantage of the momentary confusion; perhaps her high sense of theater got the better of her. Or perhaps deviants of her kind are compelled by some inner urgings to make a “profession” of feelings which their judges can only receive as “confession….” (97).  Cf. Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Boston, 1958): 143, 151.  Morgan described Hutchinsonians as “nihilists” and “religious fanatics…not content to march quietly along their short cut to heaven.”  On the turning point in the trial: “…the revered Mr. Cotton had knocked out the props from under the only remaining charge.  The triumph was too much.  Hitherto Mrs. Hutchinson had been on guard and had dextrously parried every thrust against her.  Had she been content to hold her tongue at this point, the judges might have felt obliged to dismiss her with a censure.  But instead she now proceeded to justify herself by a torrent of divine revelations.  Winthrop tried to stop her, but the floodgates were opened–perhaps by hysteria.  Suddenly he must have seen where this outpouring might lead and was silent.”

18. See David Hall, Antinomian Controversy, 200, fn4.  The first edition of John Winthrop’s Short Story….(1644) was entitled Antinomians and Familists Condemned by the Synod of Elders in New-England; with the Proceedings of the Magistrates Against Them, And their Apology for the same.  Weld ordered Winthrop’s documents, wrote a preface and changed the title to John Winthrop: A Short Story of the Rise, reign and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists, and Libertines, that infected the Churches of New England.  It was published in England as the “Antinomian sects” were beginning to appear.  This indicates that the Hutchinsonians’ fate was sealed at the Synod; the trial could not have reversed the tide.

19. Compare Perry Miller, The New England Mind from Colony to Province (Cambridge, 1953): 58-60, with Larzer Ziff, The Career of John Cotton (Princeton U.P., 1962): 49, 147 with regard to John Cotton’s character.  Where Miller saw “a feeble reed” “beaten down by practical men,” Ziff portrayed him as cautious, prudent and judicious.  Michael Colacurcio has argued that Cotton’s behavior during the Antinomian controversy was sufficiently complicated to inspire Hawthorne, who recreated his dilemma in The Scarlet Letter,  see fn. above.

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