The New England Colonies

3e. Dissent in Massachusetts Bay

Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643)
Governor John Winthrop expelled Anne Hutchinson from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638.

There was not too much room for religious disagreement in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Puritans defended their dogma with uncommon fury. Their devotion to principle was God's work; to ignore God's work was unfathomable. When free-thinkers speak their minds in such a society, conflict inevitably results.

Such was the case in Massachusetts Bay when Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams spoke their minds.

Anne Hutchinson was a deeply religious woman. In her understanding of Biblical law, the ministers of Massachusetts had lost their way. She thought the enforcement of proper behavior from church members conflicted with the doctrine of predestination. She asked simply: "If God has predetermined for me salvation or damnation, how could any behavior of mine change my fate?"

The day Mary Dyer died
Mary Dyer was the first woman executed for her religious beliefs in Massachusetts Bay Colony.

This sort of thinking was seen as extremely dangerous. If the public ignored church authority, surely there would be anarchy. The power of the ministers would decrease. Soon over eighty community members were gathering in her parlor to hear her comments on the weekly sermon. Her leadership position as a woman made her seem all the more dangerous to the Puritan order.

The clergy felt that Anne Hutchinson was a threat to the entire Puritan experiment. They decided to arrest her for heresy. In her trial she argued intelligently with John Winthrop, but the court found her guilty and banished her from Massachusetts Bay in 1637.

Roger Williams was a similar threat.

Roger Williams
The ideas of religious freedom and fair dealings with the Native Americans resulted in Roger Williams' exile from the Massachusetts colony. This 1936 postage stamp commemorates his founding of Rhode Island.

Two ideas got him into big trouble in Massachusetts Bay. First, he preached separation of church and state. He believed in complete religious freedom, so no single church should be supported by tax dollars. Massachusetts Puritans believed they had the one true faith; therefore such talk was intolerable. Second, Williams claimed taking land from the Native Americans without proper payment was unfair.

Massachusetts wasted no time in banishing the minister.

In 1636, he purchased land from the Narragansett Indians and founded the colony of Rhode Island. Here there would be complete religious freedom. Dissenters from the English New World came here seeking refuge. Anne Hutchinson herself moved to Rhode Island before her fatal relocation to New York.

America has long been a land where people have reserved the right to say, "I disagree." Many early settlers left England in the first place because they disagreed with English practice. Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were two brave souls who reminded everyone at their own great peril of that most sacred right.

On the Web
Governor John Winthrop, on hearing that Anne Hutchinson and most of her children had been killed on Long Island, stated, "Proud Jezebel has at last been cast down."
Learn More...
Ezekiel Richardson's Role in the Anne Hutchinson Affair
Anne Hutchinson's trial and banishment tore apart the Puritan community. Many, like Ezekial Richardson, signed a petition in her support, but later recanted. This page from the Richardson Family genealogy explains.
Williams & Cotton
Separation of church and state in America began with Roger Williams' dissent, and this essay contrasts the ideas contained in the writings and preachings of Williams and John Cotton.
Anne Hutchinson: National Women's Hall of Fame
Although Anne Hutchinson was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony for her political and religious beliefs, she has gone down in history as a woman of great courage and symbol of freedom of religion and speech. Read the biography of this amazing woman at this National Women's Hall of Fame website.
Mary Dyer: Life in Puritan Massachusetts
Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams weren't the only Puritans ostracized for their radical beliefs. Mary Dyer was a friend of Anne Hutchinson and stood by Anne when she was banished from the colony. Mary and her family moved to Rhode Island and years later Mary became a Quaker. This change in her religion eventually led to her persecution. Get the scoop on Mary, Anne, and Roger. Links to images and pictures enhance the already exciting narrative.
Roger Williams Biography
After Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious and political beliefs, he settled Rhode Island, a place where religious tolerence was accepted. A biography of this courageous man is presented here.

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