Puritanism developed during the late Sixteenth Century when there was a difference of opinion between the Protestants. Some of them were satisfied with traditional methods of worship and beliefs but the others felt their ways of worship need purification, hence the name Puritans. They felt that worship ought to be simpler, with less sacraments and rites. Puritans were still Protestants in the sense that they rebelled against the Catholic Church, but they also believed that the current system still needed to be improved upon. The Puritans believed in an ordered, hierarchical universe with God reigning as the supreme. Believing in predestination, Puritans looked at poverty as revealing a flaw in the poor person’s character; a sign that he or she was out of favor with the higher power.
The Puritans moved to New England for the purpose of establishing a retreat for them to practice Puritanism together and escape religious persecution, but they themselves persecuted others in the community the way that had been wronged in England. They would not put up with anyone who opposed their views or spoke their own minds. One such person the Puritans refused to tolerate was Anne Hutchinson.
Anne Hutchinson was born in Alford, England in 1591. The daughter of a clergyman, she married William Hutchinson, a merchant, in 1612, and in 1634 they migrated to Massachusetts. Anne’s father, Reverend Marbury, was a deacon at Christ Church in Cambridge. She admired him highly and her independence and willingness to speak her mind was largely due to the example that he set. He had been imprisoned two times for preaching against the ignorance of English ministers.
Anne soon organized weekly meetings of Boston women to discuss recent sermons and to give expression to her own theological views. Before long, her sessions attracted ministers and magistrates from all over. About eighty people filled her house at a time, including scholars, magistrates, gentlemen, and other men of learning. She stressed the individual’s intuition as a means of reaching God and salvation, rather than the observance of institutionalized beliefs and the precepts of ministers. The people who disagreed with her accused her of antinomianism, the view that God’s grace has freed the Christian from the need to observe established moral precepts. Describing her beliefs, Anne Hutchinson said, “As I do understand it, laws, commands, rules, and edicts are for those who have not the light which makes plain the pathway. He who had God’s Grace in his heart can not go astray.”
Her criticism of the Massachusetts Puritans for what she considered to be their narrow concept of morality and her protests against the authority of the clergy as well as against the limited role of women in the community were at first widely supported by Bostonians, but not by many others. Many people felt threatened by Anne Hutchinson’s outspoken ways. Just the fact that she was a woman who became a public figure preaching to other women, as well as men, made her seem like a threat to the Puritan way of life. She undermined the church’s authority and spoke against dictatorial religion, speaking against the church as an establishment ruling the town.
Anne Hutchinson was charged with blasphemy and was tried by the General Court chiefly for “traducing the ministers.” Being an outspoken female in a male dominated community, Anne Hutchinson had little hope that many would speak in her defense. She was convicted in 1637, and was sentenced to banishment. For a time in 1637-38 she was held in custody at the house of Joseph Weld, marshal of Roxbury, Mass. Refusing to recant, she was then tried before the Boston Church and formally excommunicated from her home. With some of her followers she established a settlement on the island of Aquidneck, which is now part of Rhode Island, in 1638. After the death of her husband in 1642, she settled on Long Island Sound, near present Pelham Bay. In 1643 Indians killed her and all her servants and children except for one.
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