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Anne Hutchinson Trials: 1637 and 1638

General Court Summons Hutchinson

The General Court summoned Hutchinson in November 1637. She was put on trial for her theological views and for stepping outside the bounds assigned to women. Governor John Winthrop, acting as prosecutor, outlined the charges: "Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace … you have spoken of divers[e] things … very prejudicial to the honour of the churches and ministers thereof, and you have maintained a meeting … that hath been condemned … as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex."

Hutchinson responded haughtily, "I am called here to answer before you, but I hear no things laid to my charge."

Winthrop said, "I have told you some already and more I can tell you."

Finally, exasperated by Hutchinson's "What have I said or done?" stance, Winthrop exclaimed, "Why for your doings, this you did harbour and countenance those that are parties in this faction that you have heard of." He was referring to the fact that Hutchinson had encouraged others to sign a petition in support of Wheelwright, who, found guilty of sedition and contempt, had been banished.

Hutchinson simply stated, "That's a matter of conscience, Sir."

Winthrop replied: "Your conscience you must keep or it must be kept for you.

He then denounced her support for Wheelwright and his sympathizers. "What breach of law is that, Sir?" Hutchinson inquired.

"Why dishonoring of parents," Winthrop immediately replied, placing the commonwealth's governor and magistrates in that role.

Hutchinson asked sarcastically, "But put the case Sir that I do fear the Lord and my parents, may I not entertain them that fear the Lord because my parents will not give me leave?"

After some further discussion of the theological point, Winthrop directed his line of questioning toward a woman's right to hold religious meetings.

Hutchinson demanded, "[C]an you find a warrant [permission] for yourself and condemn me for the same thing?" Denying that men had attended, she cited a "clear rule in Titus, that the elder women should instruct the younger."

Winthrop told her to "take it in this sense that elder women must instruct the younger about their business and to love their husbands and not make them to clash." When Hutchinson objected, saying "it is meant for some publick times," Winthrop criticized her for drawing her students away from their housework: "[I]t will not well stand with the commonwealth that families should be neglected for so many neighbours and dames and so much time spent, we see no rule of God for this … and so what hurt comes of this you will be guilty of and we for suffering you."

Seven ministers then testified in turn, as Winthrop summarized it, that Hutchinson "did say that they [the ministers] did preach a covenant of works and that they were not able ministers of the gospel." Shortly afterward, Hutchinson was ordered "to consider of it," and the court recessed until the following morning.

The next day, John Cotton's sympathetic testimony on theological points and the question of whether Hutchinson had "traduced the ministers" brought Hutchinson close to acquittal. Then, suddenly, she told the court that she knew through an immediate revelation from God that her inquisitors would be destroyed. This was proof enough of heresy, and Hutchinson was "banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society." The sentence was modified, however, to permit Hutchinson to remain "confined" in the colony until spring.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832Anne Hutchinson Trials: 1637 and 1638 - General Court Summons Hutchinson, Church Of Boston Enters Fray, The Aftermath: A Mixed Picture