American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans
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.
prominent women in American politics, such as Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt, Hutchinson did not acquire power because of her husband. She was strong in her own right, not the wife of someone stronger, which may have been one reason she had to be expunged. Anne Hutchinson is a compelling biographical subject because of her personal complexity, the many tensions in her life, and the widespread uncertainty about the details of her career. But there is more to her story. Because early New
twenty-five-year-old mother too busy with three small children to attend the celebrated event just a block from her house. Simon Bradstreet seemed to offer Anne Hutchinson her first line of support. Yet he urged her to consider abandoning her course “because,” he explained, “it gives offense.” While not unlawful, in his view, her meetings were dividing the colony and thus should cease. He, like Winthrop, saw conciliation as the best path to stability. In response to Bradstreet’s display of
they both had devoted their lives. “About three years ago we were all in peace,” Dudley said, referring to the length of the Hutchinsons’ stay. Then “Mistress Hutchinson, from that time she came, hath made a disturbance.” She had “vented diverse of her strange opinions and had made parties in the country [and] Mistress Hutchinson hath so forestalled the minds of many by their resort to her meetings that now she hath a potent party in the country.” Strange opinions alone were not a crime; many
necessity, so the settlers considered other locales. Looking south, they saw a large swamp dotted with islands. One island was known as Shawmut, a corruption of the Algonquian word nashauwamuk, or “he goes by boat.” Winthrop called the island Trimountaine because of its three prominent hills, which would soon be known as Pemberton Hill, Mount Vernon, and Beacon Hill. (The last and tallest, at an elevation of two hundred feet, was soon to be the site of a warning beacon sixty-five feet high.)
move, with his wife and two sons, from Rhode Island back to England, where he died in 1669. William Dyer, Mary’s husband, and William Baulston also signed. Henry Bull, who was illiterate, signed with an X, and someone else wrote, “his mark.” Randall Holden, who would represent these nineteen men at the purchase of the land they would occupy to the south, signed last. After signing the solemn compact, Will Hutchinson added, to the right of the formal text, in an angled script that made clear this