A depiction of the death of Anne Hutchinson and some of her family. Photo courtesy Richard Forliano
With George Pietarinen, author of “Anne Hutchinson, A Puritan Woman of Courage.”
This is the fourth in a series of articles on the Colonial and Revolutionary History of Eastchester.
The dominance of religious belief in 17th century America is very difficult for people today to comprehend. Patricia Bonomi, a prominent historian of that period, stresses that at this time, “In city, village and countryside, the idiom of religion penetrated all discourse, underlay all thought, marked all observances, and gave meaning to every public and private crisis.” A person’s faith “gave a tone to everything they did in their collective and communal capacity.”
Especially in colonial New England, religion ruled. From its very inception, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was torn apart by the disarray within the Puritan establishment. Individuals like Anne Hutchinson, Thomas Hooker and Roger Williams gained their followings because of the lack of trained ministers, leading to intense debate and dissension.
Anne Hutchinson was only a resident in Puritan Boston for four years when she was put on trial for heresy. After a disruptive trial, Hutchinson and some members of her family were banished from the Massachusetts Bay into the Puritan wilderness. Anne had been excommunicated from the church, and was cast into eternal damnation. During a six-day-long April snowstorm, Anne and her children made the long and arduous journey to join her husband in Rhode Island.
In Rhode Island, Roger Williams established a colony that served as a refuge for people persecuted for their religious beliefs. There was a saying that if a person was too good for Massachusetts, he went to Connecticut; if he was too bad, he went to Rhode Island. Thus, Rhode Island was referred to as the Isle of Errors.
Initially, her stay in Rhode Island starting in 1638 added to her sadness. Ten months after her banishment, she suffered a terrible miscarriage. The governor of Massachusetts Bay, John Winthrop, saw this tragedy as divine retribution, validating her exile. But Winthrop still wanted Anne to recant and sent three emissaries to Rhode Island to exact a confession. Anne’s reply was swift and decisive. She referred to the church of Boston as “the whore and strumpet of Boston, but no church of Christ.”
It is said that Anne preached more in Rhode Island than she had in Boston. And then, tragedy struck again. The great love of her life, her husband Will Hutchinson, passed away. Will, who always stood by his wife, declared, “I do think of her as dear saint and servant of God.”
Anne was now in a precarious position. She feared that Massachusetts would take over Rhode Island and persecute her anew. Her last recorded revelation was that the Lord had prepared a city of refuge in what is today the Bronx in New York City, then called New Amsterdam. Within eight years, she had left England, then Boston, and now without her beloved husband to support her, Anne and her family were on the move again.
William Kieft, the Dutch governor of New Netherland whose jurisdiction she fell under, had a contentious relationship with the Native Americans in this area. He orchestrated vicious attacks on local tribes that precipitated Kieft’s War that raged from 1643 to 1645. When Hutchinson and her party showed up in Kieft’s domain, he placed them in a no man’s land at the height of the troubles. Less than a year after her arrival, the 52-year-old woman, six of her children and nine others perished in a Native American attack.
After the burning of her house, only her 9-year-old daughter, Susanna, survived. She lived as a prisoner of the Lenape Native American tribe for a number of years. The Dutch government negotiated for her release and she reluctantly agreed to return to her family. Susanna had forgotten her own language and all her friends. Later, Susanna married John Cole, moved to Rhode Island, had 11 children, and lived to the age of 80. In addition to Susanna, Anne Hutchinson was survived by five children who had remained behind. Eventually there were more than 30 grandchildren.
One of the sons who remained in Boston sired a line of powerful political figures including Thomas Hutchinson, royal governor of Massachusetts, during the outbreak of the American Revolution. Presidents across the political spectrum can trace their lineage back to Anne: FDR was a sixth-great grandson. George H. Bush is a ninth great grand-grandson, and George W. Bush a 10th great-grandson.
The exact location of Anne’s settlement is in dispute. Based on the records of the Town of Eastchester and other historical accounts, Anne lived on the west side of the Hutchinson River in the vicinity of Co-op City. And her legacy lives on.
Her memory survives not simply because a river, parkway and three elementary schools bear her name, or because Eastchester was settled at the site of her house. Her courageous resistance to unjust authority and unmatched brilliance in defending her beliefs despite dire consequences place Anne Hutchinson at the forefront of great women in American history.
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