Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Antinomian Controversy

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Antinomian Controversy httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediaenthumbc
Date  October 1636 (1636-10) to March 1638 (1638-03)
Location  Massachusetts Bay Colony
Participants  Free Grace Advocates (sometimes called "Antinomians") Anne Hutchinson John Wheelwright John Cotton Governor Henry Vane the Younger Followers of Hutchinson and Wheelwright Magistrates John Winthrop Thomas Dudley John Endecott Others Ministers John Wilson Thomas Shepard Thomas Weld Hugh Peter John Eliot Others
Outcome  Anne Hutchinson banished and excommunicated John Wheelwright disfranchised and banished Supporters disarmed, dismissed, disfranchised, excommunicated, or banished

Antinomian controversy

The Antinomian Controversy, also known as the Free Grace Controversy, was a religious and political conflict in Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1636 to 1638. It pitted most of the colony's ministers and magistrates against some adherents of the Free Grace theology of Puritan minister John Cotton. The most notable Free Grace advocates, often called "Antinomians", were the charismatic Anne Hutchinson, her brother-in-law Reverend John Wheelwright, and the young governor of the colony Henry Vane. The controversy was a theological debate concerning the "covenant of grace" and "covenant of works".


Anne Hutchinson has historically been placed at the center of the controversy, a strong-minded woman situated with the Puritan movement who had grown up under the religious guidance of her father, Francis Marbury, an Anglican clergyman and school teacher. In England, she embraced the religious views of the dynamic Puritan minister John Cotton, who became her mentor and, when Cotton was forced to leave England, Hutchinson followed him to New England.

In Boston, Hutchinson was influential among the settlement's women and hosted them at her house for discussions on the weekly sermons. Eventually, men were included in these gatherings, such as Henry Vane the Younger, the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. During the meetings, Hutchinson criticized the colony's ministers for preaching a covenant of works, as opposed to the covenant of grace espoused by Reverend Cotton. The Colony's orthodox ministers held meetings regarding the Boston parishioners in the fall of 1636 with Cotton, Wheelwright, and Hutchinson. A consensus was not reached, and religious tensions mounted in the colony.

To attempt to ease the situation, a day of fasting and repentance was called on 19 January 1637. However, Cotton invited Wheelwright to speak at the Boston church during services that day, and Wheelwright's sermon created a furor that deepened the growing divide. In March 1637, Wheelwright was accused by the court of contempt and sedition but was not sentenced. His supporters, mostly from the Boston church, circulated a petition on his behalf.

The religious controversy had immediate political ramifications. During the election of May 1637, the free grace advocates suffered two major setbacks when Vane was defeated by John Winthrop in the gubernatorial race, and the Boston magistrates who supported Hutchinson and Wheelwright were voted out of office. Vane sailed to England in August 1637, never to return. At the November 1637 court, Wheelwright was sentenced to banishment, and Anne Hutchinson was brought to trial. Hutchinson defended herself well against the prosecution, but she claimed that divine inspiration was the source of her power and knowledge on the second and last day of her hearing, and prophesied ruin upon the colony. She was charged with contempt and sedition and sentenced to banishment from the colony. Winthrop and the court focused their blame for the controversy on her because of her bold prophesy. Her departure from the colony brought the controversy to a close. The events of 1636 to 1638 are regarded as crucial to an understanding of religion and society in the early colonial history of New England.

The idea that Hutchinson played a central and singular role in the controversy went largely unchallenged until 2002, when Michael Winship's account of the controversy portrayed Cotton, Wheelwright, and Vane as equally complicit with her.

David daniels antinomian controversy presentation


Antinomianism literally means being "against or opposed to the law", and was a term used by critics of those Massachusetts colonists who advocated the preaching of "free grace" as opposed to "legal" preaching. The term implied behavior that was not only immoral, but also heterodox, being beyond the limits of religious orthodoxy. The free grace advocates were also called Anabaptists and Familists, groups that were considered seriously heretic in early New England. All three of these terms were used by magistrate John Winthrop in his account of the Antinomian Controversy, called the Short Story, to discredit the so-called antinomians.

On or shortly after 21 October 1636, Winthrop had given the first public warning of this problem that would consume him and the leadership of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for much of the next two years. In his journal he wrote, "One Mrs. Hutchinson, a member of the church at Boston, a woman of a ready wit and a bold spirit, brought over with her two dangerous errors: 1. That the person of the Holy Ghost dwells in a justified person. 2. That no sanctification ["works"] can help to evidence to us our justification." He then went on to elaborate these two points. This is usually considered the beginning of what became known as the Antinomian Controversy, but which has more recently been called the Free Grace Controversy.

"Free Grace" advocates

At the heart of the controversy was Anne Hutchinson, who, according to historian Emery Battis, had induced "a theological tempest which shook the infant colony of Massachusetts to its very foundations". Also heavily involved in the event was John Wheelwright, Hutchinson's relative through marriage and a minister with a "vigorous and contentious demeanor". The early writers on the controversy blamed most of the difficulties on Hutchinson and Wheelwright, but were intent on drawing attention away from John Cotton, a Boston minister, and Henry Vane, a magistrate, both of whom were deeply complicit in the controversy. Both Cotton and Vane were very important in both New England and England, and for political reasons their roles in the controversy were greatly downplayed.

Cotton had been a mentor to Hutchinson, and the colony's other ministers regarded him and his parishioners with suspicion because of their belief in the covenant of grace as opposed to the preparationist views of the majority of divines. Vane, a young, astute aristocrat, brought his own unconventional theology to the colony, and may have encouraged Hutchinson to lead the colony's women and develop her own divergent theology. Ultimately, Hutchinson and Wheelwright were banished from the colony with many of their supporters, and Vane departed for England as the controversy came to a head. The gentle and conciliatory Cotton, however, was implored to remain in Boston, where he continued to minister until his death.

Anne Hutchinson

The person most focal to the controversy, Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643), was the daughter of Francis Marbury, a school teacher and Anglican clergyman in England with strong Puritan leanings. She was deeply imbued with religious thought as a youngster, but as a young woman had come to mistrust the priests of the Church of England, who did not seem to act according to their principles. Her religious beliefs were leaning toward atheism when she heard the voice of God, and "at last he let me see how I did oppose Jesus Christ... and how I did turne in upon a Covenant of works...; from which time the Lord did discover to me all sorts of Ministers, and how they taught, and to know what voyce I heard..." From this point forward, this inner voice became the source of Hutchinson's guidance.

Hutchinson became a follower of John Cotton, who preached at St Botolph's Church in Boston, Lincolnshire, about 21 miles (34 km) from her home town of Alford, Lincolnshire, in eastern England. It was likely Cotton who taught Hutchinson to question the legal preaching of most early 17th-century English clergymen. He may have also taught her that only "those elected by God" had the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. As preacher and layperson, Cotton and Hutchinson shared the message to others that salvation could not be earned by acting morally. On this topic Cotton wrote, "And many whose spiritual estates were not so safely layed, yet were hereby helped and awakened to discover their sandy foundations, and to seek for better establishment in Christ".

Not long after her arrival in Boston, Hutchinson began inviting women to her house to discuss recent sermons and other religious matters, and eventually these became large gatherings, twice a week, of 60 or more people. The faithful gathered at these conventicles not only to discuss sermons and listen to Hutchinson offer her spiritual explanations and elaborations, but to criticize members of the colony's preparationist ministers as well. Hutchinson began to give her own views on religion, espousing that "an intuition of the Spirit", and not outward behavior, provided the only justification that one had been elected by God. Often her theological views differed markedly from those of most of the colony's Puritan ministers. Hutchinson's following soon included Henry Vane, the young Governor of the colony, along with merchants and craftsmen who were attracted to the idea that one's outward behavior did not necessarily affect one's salvation. Historian Emery Battis wrote, "Gifted with a magnetism which is imparted to few, she had, until the hour of her fall, warm adherents far outnumbering her enemies, and it was only by dint of skillful maneuvering that the authorities were able to loosen her hold on the community."


Hutchinson was particularly drawn to John Cotton's theology of absolute grace, and this pointed her life in the direction of study and interpretation of God's word. Taking further Cotton's doctrine of the Holy Ghost dwelling within a "justified person", Hutchinson "saw herself as a mystic participant in the transcendent power of the Almighty." This theology was empowering to women in a society where the status of a woman was determined by her husband or father; in Hutchinson's case, it gave her a voice. The theology of direct personal continuing revelation that Hutchinson embraced opposed the doctrine of the closed canon of biblical revelation, which was basic to the Reformed doctrines held by the majority of English settlers at that time.

While Hutchinson adopted Cotton's minority view of divine grace being the only means to salvation, as opposed to any assistance through works, she did share the mainstream view of most Puritans in emphasizing "the need for an inner experience of God's regenerating grace as a mark of election." Beyond this, however, she espoused some views that were more radical, such as devaluing the material world and submerging herself in the Holy Spirit. She also believed in mortalism, the belief that when the body dies, the soul dies also. Another example of her divergence from the mainstream experience is that she saw herself as a prophetess. Recorded examples of her making prophetic statements occurred before she left England, while on the ship bound for New England, and most notably during her trial when she foresaw her own deliverance. While prophesying played a small part in the religious culture of Elizabethan England, for a woman to do this was an open display of defiance toward the authority that men derived from their gender.

Like other saintly women, Hutchinson claimed the "authority of inspiration," meaning the direct witness of the Holy Spirit, one of the few alternatives for an authoritative voice that were available to women. Though she was able to nimbly spar with her accusers during her civil trial, she ultimately rested her power in this inspiration to make her case. Author David Hall suggests that such authority was rejected by the magistrates and ministers because it degraded their own authority.

Background to the Theological Struggle

Hutchinson boldly challenged a major teaching of the Protestant communion by claiming to receive direct revelation that was equal in authority to Scripture. Orthodox theology stated that only the scripture, and not personal revelation, held ultimate authority, a position known as "sola scriptura". She also put into question personal liberty, another key teaching of Reformed faith.

The struggle between Hutchinson and the magistrates was an echo of a larger struggle at work throughout the Christian world in that era. It was a struggle between those who believed in direct, personal, and continuing revelation from God (Anabaptists) and those who believed that revelations from God had ceased at the end of the Apostolic Age (Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism). The first group regarded the continuing revelations which they were receiving as equal in authority to Scripture, while the latter group saw Scripture as ultimately authoritative.

At its heart was the question, Where does ultimate authority rest?" The Catholic Church believed that ultimate authority rested in both Scripture and in the Church. General Revelation concluded at the end of the Apostolic Age, and "the full truth of Revelation is contained in the doctrine of the Apostles;" this is preserved by the Church "unfalsified through the uninterrupted succession of the bishops." In contrast, the magisterial Reformers at the beginning of the Reformation claimed that authority rested in scripture alone. In this light, Hutchinson's assertion to have received authoritative revelations that other Christians should obey was less a gender issue, and more a doctrinal one. From the point of view of her opponents, Hutchinson was rolling back the achievements made by the Reformation over the previous century and a half.

During the English Reformation, many English Reformers had been martyred defending such doctrines as sola scriptura, including Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. No doubt, Ann Hutchinson's opponents were cognizant of this fact since Charles I of England made it a point of his Personal Rule (1629-1640) to challenge the victories won during the English Reformation. In the decades before Charles's Personal Rule, the Puritan movement had tried to continue and to intensify the Reformation by purifying the English church of what it perceived as corrupt beliefs and practices. But the king's primary religious agent, William Laud, aggressively dismantled the Puritan reforms, starting the moment he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. In the 1630s, many Reformed Englishmen migrated to the New World to escape the Personal Rule of King Charles. It was some of these refugees of religious intolerance and persecution who challenged Hutchinson about her special, personal revelations.

Twenty years after the Antinomian Controversy in 1659, Puritan Theologian John Owen wrote a critique of another antinomian movement known as the Quakers. Owen's opening words in A Defense of Sacred Scripture against the Fanatics reflect beliefs on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture generally held by Reformed people. He writes, β€œThe Scriptures are the settled, ordinary [as opposed to extraordinary], perfect [it cannot be improved upon], and unshakable rule for divine worship and human obedience, in such a fashion that leaves no room for any other, and no scope for any new revelations whereby man may be better instructed in the knowledge of God and our required duty.”

It was in this context that the magistrates reacted to Ann Hutchinson's claim of receiving divine, authoritative revelations.

John Wheelwright

Another major player who sided with the Antinomians, or free grace advocates, was a brother-in-law of Hutchinson, John Wheelwright, who had just arrived in New England in May 1636 as the controversy was beginning. Wheelwright, who was characterized as having a contentious disposition, had been the pastor of a church within walking distance of Hutchinson's home town of Alford. He was educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, receiving his B.A. in 1615 and his M.A. in 1618. A friend and college mate of his was Oliver Cromwell, who later gained prominence as the Lord Protector of England. After college, Wheelwright was ordained a deacon and then a priest of the Anglican Communion. He first married Mary Storre, the daughter of Thomas Storre who was the vicar of Bilsby. In 1623, upon the death of his father-in-law, Wheelwright became the Bilsby vicar, and held this position for ten years. Wheelwright's first wife died in 1629, and was buried in Bilsby on 18 May, shortly after which he married Mary Hutchinson. Mary was the daughter of Edward Hutchinson of Alford, and a sister of William Hutchinson, Anne Hutchinson's husband.

In 1633 Wheelwright was suspended from his position at Bilsby. His successor was chosen in January 1633, when Wheelwright tried to sell his ministry in Bilsby back to its patron to get funds to travel to New England. Instead of procuring the necessary funds, he was convicted of simony (selling church offices). After his removal from Bilsby, he preached for a short while at Belleau, Lincolnshire, but was soon silenced for his Puritan opinions, and he continued making plans for his emigration from England. Like John Cotton, Wheelwright preached a message of man's utter dependence on God's free grace, rejecting any notion that man could affect his salvation through his own works. Wheelwright viewed a covenant of works as casting doubt on God's loving mercy. In early spring, 1636, he embarked for New England, where he was warmly received in Boston.

John Cotton

The third person who was deeply complicit in the controversy was John Cotton, a minister whose theological views differed from those of other ministers in New England. He suffered in attempting to remain supportive of his follower, Hutchinson, while maintaining a conciliatory stance towards his ministerial colleagues.

In 1612, Cotton left a tutoring position at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and became the minister at Saint Botolph's Church in Boston, Lincolnshire. Though only 27 years old, he was considered one of the leading Puritans in England, largely due to his learned and vigorous preaching. Cotton represented the more mystical element in the Puritan movement, putting less emphasis on man's struggle to prepare himself for God's salvation and more emphasis on the transforming character of the moment of religious conversion "in which mortal man was infused with a divine grace." Cotton's theology was largely inspired by the English Puritan Richard Sibbes, but his basic tenets were from John Calvin. At one point he wrote, "I have read the fathers, and the schoolmen and Calvin too, but I find that he that has Calvin has them all."

By 1633, Cotton's inclination toward Puritan practices had attracted the attention of William Laud, who was on a mission to suppress any preaching and practices that did not conform to the tenets of the established Anglican Church. In that year, Cotton was removed from his ministry and forced into hiding. Threatened with imprisonment, he made a hasty departure for New England aboard the Griffin, taking his pregnant wife. She was so close to term that she bore her child aboard the ship: they named the child Seaborn.

On his arrival in September 1633 Cotton was openly welcomed as one of the two ministers of the church in Boston in Massachusetts Bay Colony, having been personally invited to the colony by Governor Winthrop. Once established in Boston, Cotton's enthusiastic evangelism brought about a religious awakening in the colony, and there were more conversions during his first six months in the pastorate than there had been the previous year.

Henry Vane

Henry Vane was a young aristocrat, and possibly the most important person to come to the Bay colony in the 1630s. Born in 1613, he was the son of Henry Vane the Elder, a Privy counsellor of Charles I, and therefore one of the most powerful men in England. When the younger Vane was in his teens, an intense religious experience left him confident of his salvation and his ensuing beliefs did not conform with the established Anglican Church. He came to New England with the blessing of William Laud, who thought that this would be a good place for Vane to get Puritanism out of his system. Vane was 22 years old when he arrived in Boston on 6 October 1635, and his devoutness, social rank, and character lent him an air of greatness. Winthrop called him a "noble gentleman" in his journal.

Vane became a member of the Boston church on 1 November 1635, and was given the honor of sitting on the magistrate's bench in the meetinghouse, next to Winthrop. In January 1636, Vane had taken it upon himself to arbitrate a dispute between Winthrop and magistrate Thomas Dudley, and in May, despite his youth and inexperience, he was elected governor of the colony. He built an extension to Cotton's house in which he lived while in New England, and was "deeply taken with the radical possibilities in Cotton's theology." Historian Michael Winship has stated that it was Vane who encouraged Hutchinson to set up her own conventicles and to actively engage in her own theological radicalism. He says that Vane had an appetite for unconventional theological speculation, and that it was "this appetite that profoundly altered the spiritual dynamic in Massachusetts. It caused John Cotton, after a quarter century of flirting with extremism and managing to keep on his feet, to make his first serious stumble," and it "pushed Anne Hutchinson into the public limelight". Though the role of Vane is almost entirely neglected by scholars, Winship surmises that he may have been the single most important reason that the controversy reached the pitch that it did.


Beginning with some meetings of the Massachusetts colony's ministers in October 1636, the Antinomian Controversy lasted for 17 months, and ended with the church trial of Anne Hutchinson in March 1638. However, there were signs of its emergence well before 1636, and its effects would last for more than a century afterward. The first hints of religious tension occurred in late summer 1634, aboard the ship Griffin, when Anne Hutchinson was making the voyage from England to New England with her husband and 10 of her 11 living children. The Reverend Zechariah Symmes preached to the passengers aboard the ship, and after the sermons, Hutchinson asked him pointed questions about free grace. In England, Hutchinson had criticized certain clergymen who were esteemed by Symmes, and with her uncomfortable questioning, he began to doubt her orthodoxy. After the Hutchinsons settled in Boston, Anne's husband Will was accepted readily into the Boston church congregation, but Anne's membership was delayed a week because of the concerns that Symmes had about her religious orthodoxy.

By the spring of 1636, John Cotton had become the focus of the other clergymen in the colony. Thomas Shepard, the minister of Newtown (later named Cambridge), wrote a letter to Cotton and warned him of the strange opinions being circulated among his Boston parishioners. Shepard also expressed concern about Cotton's preaching, and some of the points of his theology.

Meetings of the ministers

In October 1636, the ministers confronted the question of religious opinions and had a "conference in private" with Cotton, Hutchinson, and Wheelwright. Some of the ministers had heard that Hutchinson considered them to be unable ministers of the New Testament. In private she essentially agreed that this was her opinion, and that she thought only Cotton preached with the "seal of the Spirit". Despite these private antipathies, the outcome of the meeting was favorable, and the parties were largely in agreement. Cotton gave satisfaction to the other ministers that sanctification (works) did help in finding grace in the eyes of God, and Wheelwright agreed as well. However, the effects of the conference were short-lived, because a majority of the members of the Boston church were in accord with Hutchinson's free grace ideas, and they wanted Wheelwright to become the church's second pastor, with Cotton. The church already had another pastor, John Wilson, who was unsympathetic to Hutchinson. Wilson was a friend of Boston founder John Winthrop, who was a layman in the church. Winthrop took advantage of a rule requiring unanimity in a church vote, and was thus able to thwart the appointment of Wheelwright. Wheelwright instead was allowed to preach at Mount Wollaston, considered to be a part of Boston, but about ten miles south of the Boston church.

In December 1636, the ministers met once again, but this meeting did not produce agreement. Cotton warned about the question of sanctification becoming essentially a covenant of works. These theological differences had begun to take their toll in the political aspects of the colony, and the Massachusetts governor, Henry Vane, who was a strong admirer of Hutchinson, announced his resignation to a special session of the deputies. His reasoning was that God's judgment would "come upon us for these differences and dissensions", implying that Hutchinson's indictment of the ministers was well founded. The members of the Boston church induced Vane to withdraw his resignation, while the General Court began to debate who was responsible for the colony's troubles. The General Court, like the remainder of the colony, was deeply divided, and called for a general fast to take place on 19 January in hopes that such repentance would restore peace.

Wheelwright's fast-day sermon

While attending services at the Boston church during the appointed January day of fasting, John Wheelwright was invited to preach during the afternoon. Though his sermon may have seemed benign to the average listener in the congregation, most of the colony's ministers found it to be censurable. Instead of bringing peace, the sermon fanned the flames of controversy, and in Winthrop's words, Wheelwright "inveighed against all that walked in a covenant of works, as he described it to be, viz., such as maintain sanctification as an evidence of justification etc. and called them antichrists, and stirred up the people against them with much bitterness and vehemency." The followers of Hutchinson were encouraged by the sermon, and intensified their crusade against the "legalists" among the clergy. During church services and lectures, they publicly asked the ministers about their doctrines which disagreed with their own beliefs.

When the General Court next met on 9 March, Wheelwright was called upon to answer for his sermon. He was judged guilty of "contempt & sedition" for having "purposely set himself to kindle and increase" bitterness within the colony. The vote did not pass without a fight, and Wheelwright's friends protested formally. The Boston church, favoring Wheelwright in the conflict, "tendered a petition in his behalf, justifying Mr. Wheelwright's sermon," with 60 people signing this remonstrance protesting the conviction.

Election of May 1637

All of the protests concerning Wheelwright were rejected by the Court, and Governor Vane was unable to stop the Court from holding its next session in Newtown, where the orthodox party stood a much better chance of winning than in Boston. In his journal, Winthrop recorded the excitement and tension of election day on 17 May. Vane wanted to read a petition in defense of Wheelwright, but Winthrop and his party insisted the elections take place first, and then the petitions be heard. After some debate, the majority of freemen, wanting to proceed with the election, went with Winthrop to one side of the Newtown common and elected him governor in place of Vane. After this, additional measures were taken against the Free Grace advocates, and when the magistrates were elected, those who supported Wheelwright were left out of office. The Court also passed a law that no "strangers" could be received within the colony for longer than three weeks without the Court's permission. Winthrop saw this as a necessary ploy to prevent new immigrants from being added to the Antinomian faction.

The new law was soon tested when a brother of William Hutchinson, Samuel, arrived with some friends from England. They were refused the privilege of settling in the Bay Colony, despite Vane's protests concerning Winthrop's alien act. Vane had had enough, and on 3 August he boarded a ship and departed New England never to return. Nevertheless, he maintained his close ties with the colonies, and several years later even Winthrop called him "a true friend of New England."

Synod of 1637

At the same time as the election, the ministers attempted to settle some of the theological aspects of the controversy. In May they had just finished a round of conferences, and were successful in getting Cotton to agree on the issue of sanctification. However, the list of other doctrines in dispute became so long that they decided to hold a "synod". This formal meeting of the ministers convened in Newtown on 30 August. An important item on the agenda was to identify and refute the errors of the Antinomians, a list of 90 items, though many of them were repetitious. The other major task was to confront the various problems of church order that had been exposed during the controversy. After three weeks, the ministers felt they had better control of church doctrines and church order, allowing the synod to adjourn on 22 September.

While the ministers had found agreement, the aggressive challenges of the free grace advocates left the remainder of the colony in a state of dissension. Winthrop, realizing that "two so opposite parties could not contain in the same body, without apparent hazard of ruin to the whole," opted for a stern approach to the difficulties, supported by a majority of the colonists. The elections of October 1637 brought about a large turnover of the Deputies to the General Court. Of the 32 Deputies, only 17 were re-elected, as changes were deemed necessary in many of the colony's towns. Boston continued to be represented with strong Free Grace advocates, and of its three deputies, William Aspinwall and William Coddington continued in their previous roles, while John Coggeshall was newly elected. The deputies from most of the other towns were opposed to the Free Grace supporters.

November 1637 court

The next session of the General Court began on 2 November 1637 at the meeting house on Spring Street in Newtown. The first business of the court was to examine the credentials of its members, and when Aspinwall was called forward, he was identified as one of the signers of the petition in favor of Wheelwright. By a motion and show of hands, Aspinwall was dismissed from the court. This brought a strong reaction from Coggeshall, a deacon of the Boston church and deputy, and he too, by a show of hands, was ejected from the court. Bostonians were resentful of Winthrop's overbearing manner, but were willing to replace the two dismissed deputies with William Colburn and young John Oliver, who, like all other Bostonians eligible for the post, were supporters of Hutchinson and Wheelwright.

One of the first orders of business on that Monday was to deal with Wheelwright, whose case had been long deferred by Winthrop in hopes that he might finally see the error of his ways. Wheelwright stood firm, denying any guilt of the charges against him, and asserting that he "had delivered nothing but the truth of Christ." Winthrop painted a picture of a peaceful colony before Wheelwright's arrival, and how after his fast-day sermon, Boston refused to join the Pequot War, Pastor Wilson was often slighted, and controversy arose in town meetings. Wheelwright was steadfast in his demeanor, but was not sentenced as the court adjourned for the evening.

On Tuesday, the second day of the proceedings, John Oliver was identified as a signer of the petition in support of Wheelwright, and was thus not seated at the court, leaving Boston with only two deputies. After further argument in the case of Wheelwright, the court declared him guilty of troubling the civil peace, for holding corrupt and dangerous opinions, and for contemptuous behavior toward the magistrates. He was sentenced to be disfranchised and banished from the colony, and given two weeks to depart the jurisdiction.

Coggeshall was next to be called forth, to his surprise, and was charged with a variety of miscarriages and "as one that had a principall hand in all our late disturbances of our publike peace." The court was divided on the punishment for the magistrate, and opted for disfranchisement over banishment. Then Aspinwall, the other dismissed Boston deputy, was called forth for not only signing the petition in favor of Wheelwright, but authoring it as well. Unlike the more submissive Coggeshall, Aspinwall was defiant, and the court used his contemptuous behavior to sentence him to banishment. With these lesser issues put aside, it was now time for the court to deal with the "breeder and nourisher of all these distempers," as Anne Hutchinson was called forth.

Trial of Hutchinson

Since Hutchinson had not participated in the political protests of her free grace allies, the court could only charge her with "countenancing" those who did. Additional accusations made against her concerned her weekly meetings at her house, and the statements she made against the ministers for preaching a "covenant of works".

Besides Governor Winthrop, who served as both the primary prosecutor and judge at the trial, the other magistrates representing the prosecution were Deputy Governor Thomas Dudley, John Endecott, Richard Bellingham, Israel Stoughton, Roger Harlakenden, Increase Nowell, Simon Bradstreet, and John Humphrey. There were eight ministers present for the proceedings, beginning with John Cotton and John Wilson from the church at Boston. Hugh Peter came all the way from Salem, and Thomas Weld, one of Hutchinson's most vindictive accusers, was there from Roxbury, with his more gentle colleague, John Eliot, who, despite his mildness, was nonetheless opposed to the doctrines of the accused. George Phillips came from Watertown, Zechariah Symmes from Charlestown, and Thomas Shepard from the home church in Newtown, where the court was being held.

Winthrop questioned Hutchinson heavily on her association with those who had caused trouble in the colony, and on the meetings she held at her house, but Hutchinson effectively stonewalled this prosecutorial thrust by answering questions with questions, and matching scripture with scripture. Dudley then stepped in with a fresh attack concerning her having men at her home meetings, and "traducing [slandering] the ministers" by saying they "preached a covenant of works, and only Mr. Cotton a covenant of grace." To the latter charge Dudley added, "you said they were not able ministers of the new testament, but Mr. Cotton only!" This last assertion brought pause to Hutchinson, who knew what she had said, and to whom she had said it. It was apparent to her that what she had assumed to be confidential and private statements made during the meetings with the ministers in October 1636 had been shared with the magistrates. Not only had the ministers broken their word to her, but they had garbled her statements. She offered, "It is one thing for me to come before a public magistracy and there to speak what they would have me speak and another when a man comes to me in a way of friendship privately." Hutchinson's defense was that she had spoken only reluctantly and in private, and that in the ministerial context of the meeting she "must either speak false or true in my answers". The court, however, was not interested in her distinction between public and private statements.

During the morning of the second day of the trial, Hutchinson continued to accuse the ministers of violating their mandate of confidentiality, and of deceiving the court about her reluctance to share her thoughts with them. She now insisted that the ministers testify under oath, which they were very hesitant to do. As a matter of due process, the ministers would have to be sworn in, but would agree to do so only if the defense witnesses spoke first. There were three such witnesses, all from the Boston church, deacon John Coggeshall, lay leader Thomas Leverett, and minister John Cotton. The first two witnesses made brief statements that had little effect on the court. When Cotton testified, he tended to not remember many events of the October meeting, and attempted to soften the meaning of statements that Hutchinson was being accused of. He further stressed that the ministers were not as upset about any Hutchinson remarks at the end of the October meeting as they appeared to be later. When Dudley reiterated that Hutchinson had told the ministers that they were not able ministers of the New Testament, Cotton replied that he did not remember her saying that.

There was more parrying between Cotton and the court, but the exchanges were not picked up in the transcript of the proceedings. Wherever the proceedings were headed, Hutchinson took the load off the consciences of her accusers, and asked the court for leave to "give you the ground of what I know to be true." She then addressed the court with her own judgment, becoming both instructional and prophetic, and claiming her source of knowledge to be divine revelations. She ended her statement by stating, "and if you go on in this course you begin you will bring a curse upon you and your posterity And the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." "The judges were aghast," historian Emery Battis wrote; "She had defied the Court and threatened the commonwealth with God's curse." Cotton attempted to come to Hutchinson's defense, but was hounded by the magistrates until Winthrop called off the questioning. When a vote was taken on a sentence of banishment, only the two remaining deputies from Boston, Colburn and Coddington, dissented. Winthrop then read the order: "Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away."

After the trial

Within a week of Hutchinson's sentencing, additional supporters of hers were called into court and were disfranchised. The constables were then sent from door to door throughout the colony's towns to disarm those who signed the Wheelwright petition. Within ten days these individuals were ordered to deliver "all such guns, pistols, swords, powder, shot, & match as they shall be owners of, or have in their custody, upon paine of ten pound[s] for every default". A great number of those who signed the petition, faced with losing their protection and in some cases livelihood, recanted under the pressure, and "acknowledged their error" in signing the petition. Those who refused to recant suffered hardships and in many cases decided to leave the colony. In Roxbury, Philip Sherman, Henry Bull, and Thomas Wilson were excommunicated from the church, and all three left the colony.

Following her civil trial, Hutchinson would not be released until she underwent a trial by the clergy, and this would not take place until the following March. In the interim, she was not allowed to return home, but instead was detained at the house of Joseph Weld, brother of the Reverend Thomas Weld, which was located in Roxbury, about two miles from her home in Boston. Though the distance was not great, Hutchinson was rarely able to see her children because of the winter weather, which was particularly harsh that year. Winthrop, who referred to Hutchinson as "the prisoner", was determined to keep her isolated so that others would not be inspired by her. She was frequently visited by the various ministers, who came with the intention of reforming her thinking, but also collected evidence to use against her in the forthcoming church trial.

The ordeal was difficult for John Cotton. Not wanting to "breed any further offensive agitation," Cotton decided to leave Massachusetts and go with the settlers to New Haven. This proposal was very unwelcome to the magistrates who viewed such a departure as tarnishing to the reputation of the colony. Cotton was persuaded to remain in Boston, though he would continue to be questioned for his doctrine. Cotton's dilemma was like that of Wheelwright, with the difference between the two men not being in their doctrines, but rather in their personalities. While Wheelwright was contentious and outspoken, Cotton was mild and tractable. It was Wheelwright's nature to separate from those who disdained him; it was Cotton's nature to make peace, without compromising his essential principles.

Former Boston magistrate and Hutchinson supporter, William Coddington, still angry at the injustice of the recent trials, began making plans for his own future, in consultation with others affected by the Court's decisions. He remained on good terms with Winthrop, and consulted with him about the possibility of leaving the colony in peace. Winthrop was encouraging, and helped smooth the way with the other magistrates. Uncertain where to go, some of the men contacted Roger Williams, who suggested they purchase land of the natives along the Narraganset Bay, near his settlement in Providence. On 7 March 1638 a group of men gathered at the home of Coddington and drafted a compact. Several of the strongest supporters of Hutchinson and Wheelwright, having been disfranchised, disarmed, excommunicated, or banished, signed the instrument, including John Coggeshall, William Aspinwall, John Porter, Philip Sherman, Henry Bull and several members of the Hutchinson family. Some who were not directly involved in the events also asked to be included, such as Randall Holden and physician and theologian John Clarke.

Hutchinson's church trial

Following a four-month detention in Roxbury, Hutchinson, weary and in poor health, was called to her church trial on Thursday, 15 March 1638. The trial took place at her home church in Boston, though many of her supporters were either gone or compelled to silence. Her husband and other friends had already left the colony to prepare for a new place to live. The only family members present were her oldest son Edward with his wife, her daughter Faith with her husband, Thomas Savage, and her much younger sister, Katharine with her husband Richard Scott. The complement of ministers was largely the same as it had been during her civil trial, though the Reverend Peter Bulkley from Concord would take part, as would the newly arrived Reverend John Davenport who was staying with John Cotton, and preparing to begin a new settlement at New Haven.

The ministers were all on hand to protect the integrity of their doctrine, and felt a mounting indignation toward Hutchinson. The ruling elder, Thomas Leverett, was charged with managing the examination and called Mrs. Hutchinson forth, and read the numerous errors with which she had been charged. What followed was a nine-hour interrogation, delving into the murky points of theology. At the end of the session, where only four of the many errors were covered, Cotton was put in the uncomfortable position of delivering the admonition to his admirer. He spoke, "I would speake it to Gods Glory [that] you have bine an Instrument of doing some good amongst us...he hath given you a sharp apprehension, a ready utterance and abilitie to exprese yourselfe in the Cause of God." With this said, it was the overwhelming conclusion of the ministers that Hutchinson's unsound beliefs outweighed all the good she had done, and that she endangered the spiritual welfare of the community. Cotton continued, "You cannot Evade the Argument...that filthie Sinne of the Communitie of Woemen; and all promiscuous and filthie cominge togeather of men and Woemen without Distinction or Relation of Mariage, will necessarily follow...Though I have not herd, nayther do I thinke you have bine unfaythfull to your Husband in his Marriage Covenant, yet that will follow upon it." He concluded, "Therefor, I doe Admonish you, and alsoe charge you in the name of Ch[rist] Je[sus], in whose place I stand...that you would sadly consider the just hand of God agaynst you, the great hurt you have done to the Churches, the great Dishonour you have brought to Je[sus] Ch[rist], and the Evell that you have done to many a poore soule." With this, Hutchinson was instructed to return on the next lecture day, in one week.

With the permission of the court, Hutchinson was allowed to spend the week at the home of Cotton, where Reverend Davenport was also staying. All week the two ministers worked with her, and under their supervision she had written out a formal recantation of her unsound opinions that brought objection from all the ministers. At the next meeting, on Thursday, 22 March, Hutchinson stood, and in a subdued voice read her recantation to the congregation. For some of the ministers, it was not sufficient for this proud, strong-minded woman to submit to the humiliation of making a public confession. Wilson had to explore some of the last things that were brought up in the previous meeting, and new words brought on new assaults. The concerns of some members of the congregation were put aside, and family members were dismissed from having a say because of their natural affection for Hutchinson. Following more accusations, the proposal of excommunication was made, and the silence of the congregation allowed it to proceed. Wilson delivered the final address, "Forasmuch as you, Mrs. Hutchinson, have highly transgressed and offended...and troubled the Church with your Errors and have drawen away many a poor soule, and have upheld your Revelations; and forasmuch as you have made a Lye...Therefor in the name of our Lord Je[sus] Ch[rist]...I doe cast you out and...deliver you up to Sathan...and account you from this time forth to be a Hethen and a Publican...I command you in the name of Ch[rist] Je[sus] and of this Church as a Leper to withdraw your selfe out of the Congregation."

With the ordeal over, as Hutchinson walked toward the door, her friend, Mary Dyer, put her arm in Anne's, and walked out with her. A man by the door said, "The Lord sanctifie this unto you," to which Hutchinson replied, "Better to be cast out of the Church than to deny Christ."


With Hutchinson's departure the controversy had come to an end. Religious orthodoxy was secured as the intellectual focus of the community with the victory of the conservative party. Freedom of expression and religious choice were terminated as personal options. The established church was now the "sole repository of religious truth", in control of doctrines and morals.

Hutchinson's fate

Hutchinson, her children, and others accompanying her, traveled for more than six days by foot in the April snow to get from Boston to Roger Williams' settlement at Providence. They then took boats to get to Aquidneck Island in the Narragansett Bay, where several men had gone ahead of them to begin constructing houses. In the second week of April, she reunited with her husband, from whom she had been separated for nearly six months. During the strife of building the new settlement, Anne's husband, William Hutchinson, briefly became the chief magistrate (judge) of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, but sometime after June 1641, he died at the age of 55, the same age at which Anne's father had died.

Following the death of her husband, Anne Hutchinson felt compelled to move totally out of the reach of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and its sister colonies in Connecticut and New Haven into the jurisdiction of the Dutch. Sometime after the summer of 1642, Hutchinson, seven of her children, a son-in-law, and several servants, 16 total persons by several accounts, went to New Netherland where they settled near an ancient landmark called Split Rock, not far from what became the Hutchinson River in northern Bronx, New York City.

The timing of the Hutchinsons' settlement in this area was unfortunate. The Dutch governor, Willem Kieft, had aroused the ire of the natives with his inhumanity and treachery. Hutchinson, who had a favorable relationship with the Narragansett people in Rhode Island, likely felt a false sense of safety among the Siwanoy of New Netherland. The Hutchinsons had been friendly to them, but following their mistreatment by the Dutch, these natives rampaged through the New Netherland colony in a series of incidents known as Kieft's War. In late August 1643 a group of warriors entered the small settlement above Pelham Bay and killed every member of the Hutchinson household except for Hutchinson's nine-year-old daughter, Susanna. Susanna returned to Boston, married and had many children, and of Hutchinson's 14 other children, four are known to have survived and had offspring. Three United States presidents descend from her.

Wheelwright, Cotton, and Vane

Following his banishment from the Massachusetts colony, Wheelwright, with a group of followers, crossed the frozen Merrimack River and established the town of Exeter, New Hampshire. After a few years there, he was forced to leave as Massachusetts began to expand its territorial claims. He went from there to Wells, Maine for several years, and then accepted the pastorate in Hampton, which was in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1644, Winthrop's account of the events from 1636 to 1638 was published in London under title A Short Story of the Rise, reign, and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists & Libertines, which is often simply called the Short Story. In response to this, supporters of Wheelwright wrote Mercurius Americanus which was published in London the following year, giving his views of the events.

From Hampton, Wheelwright returned to England with his family in 1655, staying for more than six years, and at times being the guest of Henry Vane. In 1662 he returned to New England, and became the pastor of the church at Salisbury, Massachusetts, having his banishment sentence revoked in 1644, and receiving a vindication in 1654. He died in Salisbury in 1679.

Cotton continued as the minister of the church in Boston until his death in 1652. He wrote two major works following the Antinomian Controversy, The Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven (1644) and The Way of Congregational Churches Cleared (1648). The latter work was in response to Robert Baillie's A Dissuasive against the Errours of the Time published in 1645. Baillie was a Presbyterian minister who was critical of Congregationalism, specifically targeting Cotton in his writings. Cotton also fought a pamphlet war with Roger Williams. When Williams published The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience in 1644, Cotton answered with The Bloudy Tenent washed and made white in the bloud of the Lamb, after which Williams responded with yet another pamphlet.

Vane departed the Massachusetts colony in October 1637 and within two years had become the Treasurer of the Royal Navy in England. During the First English Civil War, he took on a leadership role in Parliament, and soon thereafter worked closely with Oliver Cromwell. Vane was opposed to the trial of Charles I, but after the king's execution in 1649, Vane was appointed to the English Council of State, the new executive authority for the Kingdom of England. A fallout between Parliament and the Army ended Vane's cordial relationship with Cromwell, whose role as Lord Protector began in 1653. Though invited, Vane refused to sit on Cromwell's council, and effectively put himself into retirement, where he wrote several works. Following the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660, Vane was imprisoned for his role during the interregnum, and then executed in 1662 at Tower Hill.

Historical impact

More than 350 years after the controversy, the events of 1636 to 1638 are viewed as critical to an understanding of religion, society, and gender in early American history. Historian Charles Adams wrote, "It is no exaggeration now to say that in the early story of New England subsequent to the settlement of Boston, there was in truth no episode more characteristic, more interesting, or more far-reaching in its consequences, than the so-called Antinomian controversy." Coming at a time when the new society was still taking shape, it had a decisive effect upon the future of New England. The controversy had an international effect, in that Puritans in England followed the events closely. The English were looking for answers to questions such as how to combat the English Antinomians who appeared after the Puritan Revolution began in 1640. The English Congregationalists used the controversy to demonstrate that Congregationalism was the best path for religion, whereas the Presbyterians used the controversy to demonstrate the exact opposite. The Presbyterian writer, Robert Baillie, a minister in the Church of Scotland, used the controversy to criticize colonial Congregationalism, particularly targeting John Cotton. The long-term effect of the Antinomian controversy was that it committed Massachusetts to a policy of strict religious conformity. In 1894 Adams wrote, "Its historical significance was not seriously shaken until 1819 when the Unitarian movement under Channing brought about results to Calvinistic theology similar to those which the theories of Darwin worked on the Mosaic account of the origin of man."

Published works

The events of the Antinomian Controversy have been recorded by numerous authors over a period of nearly 375 years. Following is a summary of some of the most significant published works relating to the controversy, most of which were listed by Charles Francis Adams, Jr. in his 1894 compilation of source documents on the controversy. In addition to these sources, there have been many biographies written about Anne Hutchinson during the 20th and 21st centuries.

The first account of the controversy was written by John Winthrop in 1638, the year after Hutchinson had been given the order of banishment, and the year of her departure from the Bay colony. It was important to Winthrop to write an account of the proceedings in order to anticipate and forestall any possible criticism of the events that transpired. The long title of the work was A Short Story of the Rise, reign, and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists & Libertines, usually shortened to Short Story. The work includes an incomplete transcript of the trial of Hutchinson. The book was rushed to England in March or April 1638, but was not published until 1644. As it was prepared for publication, Reverend Thomas Weld added a preface, calling the story "newly come forth in the Presse" even though it had been written six years earlier. Transcripts of this work are in the collections compiled by Charles Adams and David D. Hall.

The Short Story was highly critical of Anne Hutchinson and John Wheelwright, and once it was published in England, Wheelwright felt compelled to present his side of the story. His son was going to school in England at the time, and in 1645, under the name of John Wheelwright, Jr., Mercurius Americanus was published in London to attempt to clear Wheelwright's name. More than a century later, in 1767, Thomas Hutchinson, a great great grandson of Anne Hutchinson and loyalist governor of Massachusetts, published the History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay which includes the most complete extant transcript of Hutchinson's trial. This transcript is found in the compilations of both Adams and Hall.

In the early 19th century biographies of two of the Free Grace advocates provide some early insights into the controversy. The "Life of Sir Henry Vane" by Charles W. Upham was published in 1835, and later published in Jared Sparks' Library of American Biography, vol. IV. Ten years later George E. Ellis published "The Life of Anne Hutchinson" (1845), which is likely the first biography of Hutchinson, and was also captured in Sparks' compendium. Many biographies of both of these individuals appeared in the 20th century. In 1858 John G. Palfrey devoted a chapter of his History of New England to the controversy, and in 1873 John A. Vinton published a series of four articles in the Congregational Quarterly that were supportive of Winthrop's handling of the controversy. In 1876 Charles H. Bell published the only biography of John Wheelwright, and it includes transcripts of Wheelwright's Fast Day Sermon as well as Mercurius Americanus (1645). The first major collection of source documents on the controversy was published by Charles Adams in 1894, and titled Antinomianism in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. David Hall called it the most comprehensive collection of source documents on the subject at the time of its publication.

The next major study on the controversy emerged in 1962 when Emery Battis published Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This sociological and psychological study of the controversy and its players provides many details about the individuals, trials and other events of the controversy. In 1968 David Hall, in his work simply titled The Antinomian Controversy, added considerably to Adams' collection of source documents on the event, and then in 1990 he updated the work with additional documents. Two recent books on the controversy were written by Michael P. Winship: Making Heretics (2002) and The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson (2005).

Supporters and followers of Hutchinson and Wheelwright

In his book Saints and Sectaries (1962), Emery Battis presented a sociological perspective of the controversy, trying to determine why so many prominent people were willing to give up their homes to follow Hutchinson and Wheelwright out of the Massachusetts colony. He compiled a list of all members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who were somehow connected to the Antinomian Controversy, and broke them into three groups, based on the strength of their support for Hutchinson and Wheelwright: the Core Group, the Support Group, and the Peripheral Group. Battis collected statistics on the members of each group, some of which are shown in the following tables. The place of origin of the individual is the English County from which he came, the year of arrival is the sailing year from England to New England, and the residence is the New England town where the person lived during the Controversy (1636–1637). The disposition was the action taken against the person by the Massachusetts court. Many individuals were disarmed, meaning they were ordered to turn in all of their weapons to the authorities. This was a serious action because by law adult men were required to carry a weapon to all public meetings and gatherings. To be disfranchised meant to lose the ability to vote, which privilege came with the status of being a freeman. Being dismissed meant being removed from the church, but being allowed to re-establish membership elsewhere; to be excommunicated meant being totally disowned by the church, and removed from fellowship with the local body of believers. Banishment meant being ordered to leave the jurisdiction of the colony. Banished citizens went to two places in New England: either south to Rhode Island (Portsmouth, Newport, or in one case, Providence), or north to New Hampshire (Exeter or Dover). At least two individuals went back to England, not to return.

Core group

This group included the strongest supporters of Hutchinson and Wheelwright; the most serious action was taken against them, and all of them left, or intended to leave, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, though several of them recanted and returned. Most of these men signed the petition in favor of Wheelwright, and were thus disarmed. Several of these individuals signed the Portsmouth Compact, establishing a government on Aquidneck Island, and several became presidents, governors, or other leaders in the Rhode Island colony.

Support group

This group generally consisted of individuals who signed the petition supporting Wheelwright, and were thus disarmed, but were not willing to leave the Massachusetts colony. When action was taken against them, they largely recanted or endured the punishment, and only a few of them left Massachusetts.

Peripheral group

This group consisted of people who were not directly involved in the Antinomian Controversy, but who largely left the Massachusetts colony because of family, social, or economic ties with others who left, or because of their religious affiliations. Some were servants of members of the core group, some were siblings, and some had other connections. Several of these men returned to Massachusetts.


Antinomian Controversy Wikipedia

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