Perhaps the most interesting and controversial religious dissenter in Colonial America was Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643). Hutchinson hosted Bible studies for women and men, including Governor Henry Vane, to discuss the messages they heard at the Boston Church. In time she began to preach her own doctrine and lessons, and at its height more than 50 attended her Bible study. Other religious leaders moved against her on the grounds that as a woman she should not instruct men.
Hutchinson claimed the Holy Spirit empowered her to preach, but Puritans put greater emphasis in interpreting the Bible to find God’s Will. Since the Bible is often difficult to understand, Puritans leaders had great power over their congregants by providing their interpretations. Hutchinson, however, challenged the authority of Puritan leaders with her personal views on doctrine and the Holy Spirit. Hutchinson’s main theological controversy was her advocating of Antinomianism or Free Grace. Puritans were not a works based faith, but rather believed that true believers would be proved by their good works. Hutchinson championed the view that God offered free grace, and works had nothing to with it.
For denouncing Puritans ministers and their views on works, challenging the role of women, claiming divine inspiration, and being a popular religious leader in Boston, Hutchinson was tried on religious and civil grounds. Hutchinson was declared a heretic, convicted of sedition, and banished. Hutchinson’s family and followers founded the town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Hutchinson later moved to New Netherland, today’s New York, and was killed in an Indian massacre in 1643.
Today, Hutchinson is regarded as a champion of religious freedom and an early American feminist. Hutchinson was the mother of fifteen and among her many famous descendants are Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and other leading figures like Mitt Romney.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.