Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Dissenting Puritans: Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Dissenting Puritans: Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer

Article excerpt

Editor's Introduction: HJM is proud to select as our Editor's Choice Award for this issue Francis J. Bremer's superb biographical collection, First Founders: American Puritans and Puritanism in the Atlantic World (2012) published by the University of New Hampshire Press. Bremer, a leading authority on Puritanism and author of over a dozen books on the subject, takes a biographical approach to detail how Puritans' ideas and values ultimately contributed to the forming of our American government and institutions. In this collection he offers mini-biographies of eighteen Puritans, including well-known figure John Winthrop. These characters challenge and expand popular notions and stereotypes about Puritanism. As the book jacket explains:

With its cast of magistrates, women, clergy, merchants, and Native Americans, First Founders underscores the breadth ofearly American experience and the profound transatlantic roots of our country's forebears. Bremer succeeds in bringing little-known figures out of the shadows, while allowing us to appreciate better known figures in an entirely new light.

Both scholars and the general public will appreciate Bremer's engaging writing style and his ability to bring alive the complexity, richness, and diversity of the colonial world and the worldviews of its inhabitants. At the same time, he succeeds in conveying a sophisticated and nuanced analysis of the broader philosophical, political, economic, and social foundations of puritan experiments in the Atlantic world.

In this issue, HJM offers an excerpt from Bremer's fifth chapter, titled "Four Strong Women," which explores the lives of Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) and Mary Dyer (c. 1611-1660). The outlines of Anne Hutchinson's life are known to many. Her name appears in both elementary and high school textbooks, while Mary Dyer's story is far less familiar. Yet, although Hutchinson was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for her unorthodox religious views in 1643, Dyer was hanged in Boston in 1660for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony.

While Dyer's memory barely registers in the nation's popular historical consciousness, Hutchinson remains a contentious figure that has been lionized, mythologized, and demonized. After her death, Reverend John Winthrop referred to Hutchinson as "this American Jezebel," an epithet associated with the most evil woman in the Bible. In 1830 NathanialHawthorne wrote a "sketch"about her; some literary critics trace the character of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter to Hutchinson's persecution. Historians and popular writers have interpreted and re-interpreted her life within various frameworks. As to her historical impact, one historian has written that "Hutchinson's well-publicized trials and the attendant accusations against her made her the most famous, or infamous, English woman in colonial American history. 'Ą

This selection is reprinted from First Founders: American Puritans and Puritanism in the Atlantic World Women (2012) with permission from the University of New Hampshire Press. The first paragraphs provide background on puritanism and are excerpted from pages 3-4. The editors have provided additional explanatory sections and endnotes which did not appear in the original publication.

A further note to our readers: In this selection the term puritan is not capitalized. Dr. Bremer explains that a growing number of American historians and virtually all English historians use the uncapitalized form. Unlike Calvinism, Lutheranism, or other such denominations that had a definable doctrinal statement and organizational structure, puritanism had no such well-defined parameters (unlike denominational forms of puritanism such as Congregationalism and Presbyterianism). With no such defined limits scholars can disagree over whether a particular individual was even truly a puritan. Puritanism was more a movement or temperament (often called the hottest sort of Protestants), the character of which evolved over time. …

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