Trial of Anne Hutchinson: History, Significance & Timeline

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  • 0:02 Anne Hutchinson Goes…
  • 0:49 Covenant of Works vs Grace
  • 1:30 The Trial
  • 2:14 Her Banishment
  • 3:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Lively

Amy has an M.A. in American History. She has taught history at all levels, from university to middle school.

This lesson discusses Anne Hutchinson and her famous trial in Massachusetts. Learn more about the religious beliefs that led to Hutchinson's banishment from the colony, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Anne Hutchinson Goes to America

It should have come as a surprise to nobody that Anne Marbury grew up to be an outspoken woman. Her father, Francis Marbury, was jailed more than once in England for his non-conformist views. His daughter apparently followed in his footsteps.

In 1612, 21-year-old Anne married William Hutchinson and they became followers of John Cotton, a Puritan preacher. When Cotton was relieved of his duties in 1633 after criticizing the Church of England, he left for Boston. Anne and William, also seeking religious freedom, followed Cotton to America. Anne began to lead weekly prayer groups from her home, which attracted a following of both men and women. She also attracted the attention of her neighbor, Governor John Winthrop. He said of her that she was 'more bold than a man.'

Covenant of Works Versus Grace

In her prayer meetings, Hutchinson discussed that the grace of God came from faith, not from simply doing good deeds. Only by having an internal relationship with God could one truly know God, she said.

This went against the beliefs of the Puritan ministers of Massachusetts, who were interested in external action, not internal relationships. They said that good deeds serve as proof that salvation exists. Since only a chosen few were given God's grace at birth, these deeds were necessary for knowing who was sanctified. Hutchinson said that by teaching that, the ministers were teaching a Covenant of Works rather than a Covenant of Grace. The ministers strongly denied this, arguing that good deeds were evidence of salvation, not the path to salvation.

The Trial

Hutchinson ventured into dangerous territory in more ways than one. The Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s had little tolerance for open debate on religion. The Puritans especially did not want women deciding that they could interpret the Bible on their own. She was brought to a civil trial in November of 1637 on charges of heresy and making negative remarks about the ministers.

As Winthrop questioned her, Hutchison refused to back down, often firing back questions of her own. When asked what right she had, as a woman, to teach about God, Hutchinson said the Bible gave her that right. The biblical book of Titus teaches, 'Elder women should instruct the younger,' she said. To charges that she accused the ministers of teaching a Covenant of Works, she denied it and challenged the court to prove it.

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