Anne Hutchinson: Religious Dissident

Massachusetts Religious Dissident

Anne Hutchinson on Trial - Artist Conception
Anne Hutchinson on Trial - Artist Conception. Interim Archives / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Anne Hutchinson was a leader in religious dissent in the Massachusetts colony, nearly causing a major schism in the colony before she was expelled. She's considered a major figure in the history of religious freedom in America.

Dates: baptized July 20, 1591 (birth date unknown); died in August or September of 1643


Anne Hutchinson was born Anne Marbury in Alford, Lincolnshire. Her father, Francis Marbury, was a clergyman from the gentry and was Cambridge-educated. He went to prison three times for his views and lost his office for advocating, among other views, that the clergy be better educated. Her father was called by the Bishop of London, at one time, "an ass, an idiot and a fool."

Her mother, Bridget Dryden, was Marbury's second wife. Bridget's father, John Dryden, was a friend of the humanist Erasmus and an ancestor of the poet John Dryden. When Francis Marbury died in 1611, Anne continued to live with her mother until she married William Hutchinson the next year.

Religious Influences

Lincolnshire had a tradition of women preachers, and there's some indication that Anne Hutchinson knew of the tradition, though not the specific women involved.

Anne and William Hutchinson, with their growing family -- eventually, fifteen children -- several times a year made the 25-mile journey to attend the church served by the minister John Cotton, a Puritan. Anne Hutchinson came to consider John Cotton her spiritual mentor. She may have begun holding women's prayer meetings at her home during these years in England.

Another mentor was John Wheelwright, a clergyman in Bilsby, near Alford, after 1623. Wheelwright in 1630 married William Hutchinson's sister, Mary, bringing him even closer to the Hutchinson family.

Emigration to Massachusetts Bay

In 1633, Cotton's preaching was banned by the Established Church and he emigrated to America's Massachusetts Bay. The Hutchinsons' oldest son, Edward, was part of Cotton's initial emigrant group. That same year, Wheelwright was also banned. Anne Hutchinson wanted to go to Massachusetts, too, but pregnancy kept her from sailing in 1633. Instead, she and her husband and their other children left England for Massachusetts the next year.

Suspicions Begin

On the journey to America, Anne Hutchinson raised some suspicions about her religious ideas. The family spent several weeks with a minister in England, William Bartholomew, while waiting for their ship, and Anne Hutchinson shocked him with her claims of direct divine revelations. She claimed direct revelations again on board the Griffin, in talking to another minister, Zachariah Symmes.

Symmes and Bartholomew reported their concerns upon their arrival in Boston in September. The Hutchinsons tried to join Cotton's congregation on arrival and, while William Hutchinson's membership was approved quickly, the church examined the views of Anne Hutchinson before they admitted her to membership.

Challenging Authority

Highly intelligent, well-studied in the Bible from the education provided her with her father's mentorship and her own years of self-study, skilled in midwifery and medicinal herbs, and married to a successful merchant, Anne Hutchinson quickly became a leading member of the community. She began leading weekly discussion meetings. At first these explained Cotton's sermons to the participants. Eventually, Anne Hutchinson began reinterpreting the ideas preached in the church.

Anne Hutchinson's ideas were rooted in what was called by opponents Antinomianism (literally: anti-law). This system of thought challenged the doctrine of salvation by works, emphasizing the direct experience of a relationship with God, and focusing on salvation by grace. The doctrine, by relying on individual inspiration, tended to elevate the Holy Spirit above the Bible, and also challenged the authority of the clergy and of church (and government) laws over the individual. Her ideas were counterposed to the more orthodox emphasis on a balance of grace and works for salvation (Hutchinson's party thought they overemphasized works and accused them of Legalism) and ideas about clergy and church authority.

Anne Hutchinson's weekly meetings turned to twice a week, and soon fifty to eighty people were attending, both men and women.

Henry Vane, the colonial governor, supported Anne Hutchinson's views, and he was a regular at her meetings, as were many in the colony's leadership. Hutchinson still saw John Cotton as a supporter, as well as her brother-in-law John Wheelwright, but had few others among the clergy.

Roger Williams had been banished to Rhode Island in 1635 for his non-orthodox views. Anne Hutchinson's views, and their popularity, caused more of a religious rift. The challenge to authority was especially feared by the civil authorities and clergy when some adherents to Hutchinson's views refused to take up arms in the militia which was opposing the Pequots, with whom the colonists were in conflict in 1637.

Religious Conflict and Confrontation

In March of 1637, an attempt to bring the parties together was held, and Wheelwright was to preach a unifying sermon. However, he took the occasion to be confrontational and was found guilty of sedition and contempt in a trial before the General Court.

In May, elections were moved so that fewer of the men in Anne Hutchinson's party voted, and Henry Vane lost the election to deputy governor and Hutchinson opponent John Winthrop. Another supporter of the orthodox faction, Thomas Dudley, was elected deputy governor. Henry Vane returned to England in August.

That same month, a synod was held in Massachusetts which identified the views held by Hutchinson as heretical. In November 1637, Anne Hutchinson was tried before the General Court on charges of heresy and sedition.

The outcome of the trial was not in doubt: the prosecutors were also the judges since her supporters had, by that time, been excluded (for their own theological dissent) from the General Court. The views she held had been declared heretical at the August synod, so the outcome was predetermined.

After the trial, she was put into the custody of Roxbury's marshal, Joseph Weld. She was brought to Cotton's home in Boston several times so that he and another minister could convince her of the error of her views. She recanted publicly but soon admitted that she still held her views.


In 1638, now accused of lying in her recantation, Anne Hutchinson was excommunicated by the Boston Church and moved with her family to Rhode Island to land purchased from the Narragansetts. They were invited by Roger Williams, who had founded the new colony as a democratic community with no enforced church doctrine. Among Anne Hutchinson's friends who also moved to Rhode Island was Mary Dyer.

In Rhode Island, William Hutchinson died in 1642. Anne Hutchinson, with her six youngest children, moved first to Long Island Sound and then to the New York (New Netherland) mainland.


There, in 1643, in August or September, Anne Hutchinson and all but one member of her household were killed by Native Americans in a local uprising against the taking of their lands by the British colonists. Anne Hutchinson's youngest daughter, Susanna, born in 1633, was taken captive in that incident, and the Dutch ransomed her.

Some of the Hutchinsons' enemies among the Massachusetts clergy thought that her end was divine judgment against her theological ideas. In 1644, Thomas Weld, on hearing of the death of the Hutchinsons, declared "Thus the Lord heard our groans to heaven and freed us from this great and sore affliction."


In 1651 Susanna married John Cole in Boston. Another daughter of Anne and William Hutchinson, Faith, married Thomas Savage, who commanded the Massachusetts forces in King Philip's War, a conflict between Native Americans and the English colonists.

Controversy: History Standards

In 2009, a controversy over history standards established by the Texas Board of Education involved three social conservatives as reviewers of the K-12 curriculum, including adding more references to the role of religion in history.  One of their proposals was to remove references to Anne Hutchinson who taught religious views that different from the officially sanctioned religious beliefs.

Selected Quotations

• 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 has God's grace in his heart cannot go astray.

• The power of the Holy Spirit dwelleth perfectly in every believer, and the inward revelations of her own spirit, and the conscious judgment of her own mind are of authority paramount to any word of God.

• I conceive there lies a clear rule in Titus that the elder women should instruct the younger and then I must have a time wherein I must do it.

• If any come to my house to be instructed in the ways of God what rule have I to put them away?

• Do you think it not lawful for me to teach women and why do you call me to teach the court?

• When I first came to this land because I did not go to such meetings as those were, it was presently reported that I did not allow of such meetings but held them unlawful and therefore in that regard they said I was proud and did despise all ordinances. Upon that a friend came unto me and told me of it and I to prevent such aspersions took it up, but it was in practice before I came. Therefore I was not the first.

• I am called here to answer before you, but I hear no things laid to my charge.

• I desire to know wherefore I am banished?

• Will it please you to answer me this and to give me a rule for then I will willingly submit to any truth.

• I do here speak it before the court. I look that the Lord should deliver me by his providence.

• If you please to give me leave I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true.

• The Lord judges not as man judges. Better to be cast out of the church than to deny Christ.

• A Christian is not bound to the law.

• But now having seen him which is invisible I fear not what man can do unto me.

• What from the Church at Boston? I know no such church, neither will I own it. Call it the whore and strumpet of Boston, no Church of Christ!

• You have power over my body but the Lord Jesus hath power over my body and soul; and assure yourselves thus much, you do as much as in you lies to put the Lord Jesus Christ from you, and if you go on in this course you begin, you will bring a curse upon you and your posterity, and the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

• He that denies the testament denies the testator, and in this did open unto me and give me to see that those which did not teach the new covenant had the spirit of antichrist, and upon this he did discover the ministry unto me; and ever since, I bless the Lord, he hath let me see which was the clear ministry and which the wrong.

• For you see this scripture fulfilled this day and therefore I desire you as you tender the Lord and the church and commonwealth to consider and look what you do.

• But after he was pleased to reveal himself to me I did presently, like Abraham, run to Hagar. And after that he did let me see the atheism of my own heart, for which I begged of the Lord that it might not remain in my heart.

• I have been guilty of wrong thinking.

• They thought that I did conceive there was a difference between them and Mr. Cotton... I might say they might preach a covenant of works as did the apostles, but to preach a covenant of works and to be under a covenant of works is another business.

• One may preach a covenant of grace more clearly than another... But when they preach a covenant of works for salvation, that is not truth.

• I pray, Sir, prove it that I said they preached nothing but a covenant of works.

• Thomas Weld, on hearing of the death of the Hutchinsons: Thus the Lord heard our groans to heaven and freed us from this great and sore affliction.

• From the sentence at her trial read by Governor Winthrop: Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society.

Background, Family

  • Father: Francis Marbury, a clergyman in the Church of England
  • Mother: Bridget Dryden
  • Husband: William Hutchinson (married 1612; well-to-do cloth merchant)
  • Children: 15 in 23 years

Also known as

Anne Marbury, Anne Marbury Hutchinson


  • Helen Auger. An American Jezebel: The Life of Anne Hutchinson. 1930.
  • Emery John Battis. Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 1962.
  • Thomas J. Bremer, editor. Anne Hutchinson: Troubler of the Puritan Zion. 1981.
  • Edith R. Curtis. Anne Hutchinson. 1930.
  • David D. Hall, editor. The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638. 1990, second edition. (Includes records from Hutchinson's trial.)
  • Winifred King Rugg. Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson. 1930.
  • N. Shore. Anne Hutchinson. 1988.
  • William H. Whitmore and William S. Appleton, editors. Hutchinson Papers. 1865.
  • Selma R. Williams. Divine Rebel: The Life of Anne Marbury Hutchinson. 1981.
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Anne Hutchinson: Religious Dissident." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Anne Hutchinson: Religious Dissident. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Anne Hutchinson: Religious Dissident." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).