America's First Individualist Anarchist

Anne Hutchinson on trialAnne Hutchinson on trial

Very shortly after the expulsion of Roger Williams, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was rent far more widely by another heresy with roots deep in the colony — the “antinomianism” of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson. A major reason for the crisis that Anne Hutchinson’s heresy posed for Massachusetts was that she occupied a high place in the colony’s oligarchy. Arriving in Massachusetts in 1634, she and her husband lived close to Governor Winthrop’s mansion in Boston and participated in Boston’s high society. A friend of the eminent Reverend John Cotton, she first confined her religious activities to expatiating on Cotton’s sermons. Soon, however, Mrs. Hutchinson developed a religious doctrine of her own, now known as antinomianism. She preached the necessity for an inner light to come to any individual chosen as one of God’s elect. Such talk marked her as far more of a religious individualist than the Massachusetts leaders. Salvation came only through a covenant of grace emerging from the inner light, and was not at all revealed in a covenant of works, the essence of which is good works on earth. This meant that the fanatically ascetic sanctification imposed by the Puritans was no evidence whatever that one was of the elect. Furthermore, Anne Hutchinson made it plain that she regarded many Puritan leaders as not of the elect. She also came to assert that she had received direct revelations from God.

In contrast to Williams’ few Salem followers, Anne Hutchinson had rapid and sweeping success in converting her fellow citizens. John Cotton now became a follower of hers, as did young Sir Henry Vane, chosen governor by the General Court in 1636, and Anne’s brother-in-law, Rev. John Wheelwright. Indeed, John Winthrop (deputy governor in 1636) wrote disgustedly that virtually the entire church at Boston had become her converts. As bitter enemies of Anne, there remained especially Winthrop and the senior minister of Boston, John Wilson. Mrs. Hutchinson failed in her attempt to oust Wilson from his post, but she did succeed in having him censured by

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