A rebel’s rebel

Daily Reading for February 5 • Roger Williams, 1683, and Anne Hutchinson, 1643, Prophetic Witnesses

Cast out by men who themselves had been outcasts in their native England, Hutchinson is a classic rebel’s rebel, revealing how quickly outsiders can become authoritarians. The members of the Massachusetts Court removed Anne because her moral certitude was too much like their own. Her views were a mirror for their rigidity. It is ironic, the historian Oscar Handlin noted, that the Puritans “had themselves been rebels in order to put into practice their ideas of a new society. But to do so they had to restrain the rebellion of others.”

Until now, views of Anne Hutchinson in American history and letters have been polarized, tending either toward disdain or exaltation. The exaltation comes from women’s clubs, genealogical associations, and twentieth-century feminists who honor her as America’s first feminist, career woman, and equal marital partner. . . . Her detractors, starting with her neighbor John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts, derided her as the “instrument of Satan,” the new Eve, and the “enemy of the chosen people.” In summing her up, Winthrop called her “this American Jezebel”–the emphasis is his—making an epithet of the name that any Puritan would recognize as belonging to the most evil and shameful woman in the Bible. . . .

One of her heresies was knowing that she was among God’s elect and then presuming that she could detect who else was too. . . . This view, which her opponents imputed to her, was not hers alone. An excessive concern with one’s own and others’ “spiritual estate” was also typical of her judges. Salvation—who had it, who didn’t—was the major issue of her day, as it may be, in various forms, today.

From American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).

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