Born in 1591, Anne was the daughter of Reverend Francis Marbury, who was tried twice for challenging the Anglican Church’s authority. He was fortunate to have been jailed at home, and not in some harsher prison. In a day when few girls of common birth were educated, Marbury taught his daughters to read and write, using Shakespeare, the Bible and John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs.” It is easy to picture the impressionable young Anne standing by her father’s side, absorbing stories of trials and martyrdom. Anne surely developed her willingness to challenge Puritan authority from her father’s heretical beliefs.
Soon after Anne came to Massachusetts, she began holding meetings to critique Puritan sermons. Before long, upwards of eighty people attended Anne’s “prophetical” teachings. Among them was Sir Henry Vane, the highest-born man in New England. Ironically, Vane had been an enthusiastic Puritan in England, but opposed them in Massachusetts.
Few noblemen walked Boston’s streets, and Lord Vane surely attracted attention. Puritans wore their hair short, but Harry’ s locks fell to his shoulders. His stylish clothes bent, but didn’t quite break Puritan law, which forbade apparel with lace, gold or silver work - at least for poor people.
In spite of those foppish ways and his liking for Anne Hutchinson, Lord Vane made a good early impression on the Puritans, who had hoped that he would attract other highborn settlers. Vane became Massachusetts’ youngest governor at the unripe age of twenty-four, when increasingly radical voters rejected John Winthrop’s re-election. The leadership change revealed a deep rift between the Puritans and Anne’s followers, whom the Puritans called “Antinomians” [against law].
Ministers and magistrates were as deeply divided as the population. They debated hotly whether people were destined for Heaven or Hell at birth, whether the spirit of God physically dwelt in a person, and whether a person’s good deeds proved that they were saved.
These theological fine points profoundly affected Bostonian’s lives. Only the most conservative Puritan ministers could preach, and nobody was admitted to church membership without their approval. Without that membership, a man could not vote or hold office.
The clergy and Boston’s earliest leaders refused to relinquish control to heretical upstarts like Harry Vane. The Puritans moved the May 1637 elections across the Charles River to Newtown [now Cambridge]. Many of Vane’s supporters could not get there to vote, so Winthrop was re-elected governor. Vane, now a mere court deputy, realized that his political career in Massachusetts was over. In August he returned to England.
The victors turned their attention to Anne. After all, no woman was allowed to preach, particularly when she contradicted the Puritans. With Vane gone, she and her followers became the next targets.
Anne’s brother-in-law, the Reverend John Wheelwright, had preached a fiery sermon calling the Puritans “antichrists.” Because he said that “true believers” must put on Christ’s armor and prepare to fight, the Puritans declared Wheelwright guilty of sedition. Seventy-seven men signed a petition in support of Wheelwright. This roster of discontent became a Puritan hit list.
In November the court ordered every man on that list to surrender their weapons, then to recant or be cast out of Massachusetts. Wheelwright was banished. Though Anne Hutchinson declared that as a saved person destined for heaven only God ruled her, not civil magistrates, she was also commanded to leave Massachusetts.
Anne had further armed the Puritans by saying that God had revealed to her that He would ruin her foes. The Puritan ministers charged her with heresy, and Anne was excommunicated. With her removal to Rhode Island, the Antinomian Crisis was over.
At its simplest, the Antinomian crisis was an early dispute over freedom of religion and separation of church and state. In this case, the Puritans were victorious – church and state remained as one, and non-Puritans were cast out.
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