American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans
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In 1637, Anne Hutchinson, a forty-six-year-old midwife who was pregnant with her sixteenth child, stood before forty male judges of the Massachusetts General Court, charged with heresy and sedition. In a time when women could not vote, hold public office, or teach outside the home, the charismatic Hutchinson wielded remarkable political power. Her unconventional ideas had attracted a following of prominent citizens eager for social reform. Hutchinson defended herself brilliantly, but the judges, faced with a perceived threat to public order, banished her for behaving in a manner "not comely for [her] sex."
Written by one of Hutchinson's direct descendants, American Jezebel brings both balance and perspective to Hutchinson's story. It captures this American heroine's life in all its complexity, presenting her not as a religious fanatic, a cardboard feminist, or a raging crank—as some have portrayed her—but as a flesh-and-blood wife, mother, theologian, and political leader. The book narrates her dramatic expulsion from Massachusetts, after which her judges, still threatened by her challenges, promptly built Harvard College to enforce religious and social orthodoxies—making her the mid-wife to the nation's first college. In exile, she settled Rhode Island, becoming the only woman ever to co-found an American colony.
The seeds of the American struggle for women's and human rights can be found in the story of this one woman's courageous life. American Jezebel illuminates the origins of our modern concepts of religious freedom, equal rights, and free speech, and showcases an extraordinary woman whose achievements are astonishing by the standards of any era.
many contradictions, denials, and evasions, Governor Winthrop turned to her final witness, the only one with sufficient power to sit among the magistrates. “Mister Cotton,” Winthrop said wearily, “the court desires that you declare what you do remember of the conference.” All eyes in the hall settled on the solemn visage of Anne’s closest ally. The Reverend John Cotton had deep-set, heavily lidded eyes and a mustache that he combed into two slender, waxed points. Beneath his black skullcap, his
consciousness, the midwives told her only that her baby had died. But what to do with the body? Anne Hutchinson proposed that they bury it and not speak of it again. The risk of this, as both she and Jane Hawkins knew, was that if townspeople heard what had happened, they would suspect evil intent, which would only intensify the Dyers’ shame. English common law allowed a midwife to bury a dead baby in private, as long as “neither hog nor dog nor any other beast come into it,” but the
in 1585 and settled thirty-six miles from Lincoln in her hometown of Alford, then a village of several hundred souls and roughly seventy thatched houses set around a large market square. Edward Hutchinson opened a textile store on the square, where on Tuesdays and Fridays the market was held. A stone’s throw away, across the main road that ran just north of the square, was Saint Wilfrid’s Church, where Francis Marbury preached to the townspeople, including Will and his ten younger siblings. Will
well as the Scriptures, because the Holy Ghost was the author of both.” Some of the errors involved Hutchinson’s perceived lawlessness: “That we are not bound to the [earthly] law, not as a rule of life. That not being bound to the law, no transgression of the law is sinful.” Having recited all the errors on the ministers’ lists, Leverett repeated in a quiet voice, “It is desired by the church, sister Hutchinson, that you express whether this be your opinion or not.” He gazed at the floor,
south of Salem. Ill and unable to survive on his own, the minister was sheltered and fed for several winter months by Wampanoag Indians. In the spring he moved south to modern-day Seekonk, where he built beside the river a hut of saplings covered with boughs. His wife, children, and a few followers joined him there. But the governor of the nearby Plymouth Plantation—where Williams had lived six years before while studying Indian languages—accused him of trespassing. Williams and his followers