The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson

Puritans Divided

Michael P. Winship

Anne Hutchinson was perhaps the most famous Englishwoman in colonial American history, viewed in later centuries as a crusader for religious liberty and a prototypical feminist. Michael Winship, author of the highly acclaimed Making Heretics, provides a startlingly new and fresh account of her oft-told tale, disentangling what really happened from the legends that have misrepresented her for so long.

During the 1630s, religious controversies drove a wedge into the puritan communities of Massachusetts. Anne Hutchinson and other members began to speak out against mainstream doctrine, while ministers like John Cotton argued for personal discovery of salvation. The puritan fathers viewed these activities as a direct and dangerous threat to the status quo and engaged in a fierce and finally successful fight against them. Refusing to disavow her beliefs, Hutchinson was put on trial twice—first for slandering the colony's ministers, then for heresy—and banished from the colony.

“Could easily replace . . . Edmund Morgan’s The Puritan Dilemma. . . as an introduction to early American history.”

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Scholarly depth, elegant prose, and gently iconoclastic tone make this an excellent account of a misunderstood episode.”

Journal of Religion
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Combing archives for neglected manuscripts and ancient books for obscure references, Winship gives new voice to other characters in the drama whose significance has not previously been understood. Here are Thomas Shepard, a militant heresy hunter who vigorously pursued both Cotton and Hutchinson; Thomas Dudley, the most important leader in Massachusetts after Governor John Winthrop; Henry Vane, a well-connected supporter of radical theology; and John Wheelwright, a bellicose minister who was a lightning rod for the frustrations of other dissidents. Winship also analyzes the political struggle that almost destroyed the colony and places Hutchinson's trials within the context of this turmoil.

As Winship shows, although the trials of Anne Hutchinson and her allies were used ostensibly to protect Massachusetts' Christian society, they instead nearly tore it apart. His concise, fast-moving, and up-to-date account brings puritan doctrine back into focus, giving us a much closer and more informed look at a society marked by religious intolerance and immoderation, one that still echoes in our own times. As long as governments take it upon themselves to define orthodoxies of conscience, The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson will be required reading for students and concerned citizens alike.

About the Author

Michael P. Winship is professor of history at the University of Georgia and author of Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641 and Seers of God: Puritan Providentialism in the Restoration and Early Enlightenment.

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