Little gentleness and surely little of the overwhelming love that was Christ's are apparent in a creed so stern and uncompromising. But the age in which it flourished was not in itself a gentle and tolerant era. It had not been so many years since men and women had been tortured and executed for their faith. The Spanish Inquisition had scarcely ceased its labor of barbarism; and days were to follow both in England and on the continent when acts almost as savage would be allowed for the sake of religion.
In spite, moreover, of all that has been said above, in spite of the literalness, the belief in a personal devil, the fear of an arbitrary God, the religion of Puritanism was not without comfort to the New England woman. Many are the references to the Creator's comforting presence and help. Note these lines from a letter written by Margaret Winthrop to her husband in "Sure I am, that all shall work to the best to them that love God, or rather are loved of him. I know he will bring light out of obscurity, and make his righteousness shine forth as clear as noonday.
Yet I find in myself an adverse spirit, and a trembling heart, not so willing to submit to the will of God as I desire. There is a time to plant, and a time to pull up that which is planted, which I could desire might not be yet. But the Lord knoweth what is best, and his will be done Though woman might not speak or hold office in the Church, yet she was not by any means denied the ordinary privileges and comforts of religious worship, but rather was encouraged to gather with her sisters in informal seasons of prayer and meditation.
The good wives are commended in many of the writings of the day for general charity work connected with the church, and are mentioned frequently as being present at the evening assemblies similar to our modern prayer meetings.
Cotton Mather makes this notation in his Essays to do Good , published in "It is proposed, That about twelve families agree to meet the men and their wives at each other's houses, in rotation, once in a fortnight or a month, as shall be thought most proper, and spend a suitable time together in religious exercises.
According to Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts Bay , when Anne Hutchinson, that creator of religious strife and thorn in the side of the Elders, conducted assemblies for women only, there was even praise for the innovation. It was only when this leader criticised the clergy that silence was demanded. Hutchinson thought fit to set up a meeting for the sisters, also, where she repeated the sermons preached the Lord's day before, adding her remarks and expositions.
Her lectures made much noise, and fifty or eighty principal women attended them. At first they were generally approved of.
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Only when the decency and the decorum of the colony was threatened did the stern laws of the church descend upon Mistress Hutchinson and her followers. It was doubtless the riotous conduct of these radicals that caused the resolution to be passed by the assembly in , which stated, according to Winthrop: "That though women might meet some few together to pray and edify one another; yet such a set assembly, as was then in practice at Boston , where sixty or more did meet every week, and one woman in a prophetical way, by resolving questions of doctrine, and expounding scripture took upon her the whole exercise, was agreed to be disorderly, and without rule.
Among the Quakers women's meetings were common; for equality of the sexes was one of their teachings. But those Puritan colonists had far greater troubles to harass them than the few quiet Quaker women who were moved by Inner Light to speak in the village streets. One of these troubles we have touched upon—the Rise of the Antinomians, or the disturbance caused by Anne Hutchinson. The other was the Salem Witchcraft proceedings. In both of these women were directly concerned, and indeed were at the root of the disturbances. Let us examine in some detail the influence of Puritan womanhood in these social upheavals that shook the foundations of church rule in New England.
While most of the women of the Puritan colonies seem to have been too busy with their household duties and their numerous children to concern themselves extensively with public affairs, there was this one woman, Anne Hutchinson, who has gained lasting fame as the cause of the greatest religious and political disturbance occurring in Massachusetts before the days of the Revolution. Many are the references in the early writers to this radical leader and her followers. Some of the most prominent men and women in the colony were inclined to follow her, and for a time it appeared that hers was to be the real power of the day; great was the excitement.
Vane and Mr. Cotton, she advanced doctrines and opinions which involved the colony in disputes and contensions; and being improved to civil as well as religious purposes, had like to have produced ruin both to church and state. Intensely religious as a child, she was deeply influenced when a young woman by the preaching of John Cotton. The latter, not being able to worship as he wished in England, moved to the Puritan colony in the New World, and Anne Hutchinson, upon her arrival at Boston, frankly confessed that she had crossed the sea solely to be under his preaching in his new home.
Many of the prominent men of the community soon became her followers: Sir Harry Vane, Governor of the colony; her brother-in-law, the Rev. John Wheelwright; William Coddington, a magistrate of Boston; and even Cotton himself, leader of the church and supposedly orthodox of the orthodox.
That this was enough to turn the head of any woman may well be surmised, especially when we remember that she was presumed to be the silent and weaker vessel,—to find suddenly learned men and even the greatest clergymen of the community sitting at her feet and hearing her doctrines. It is difficult to determine the real state of affairs concerning this woman and her teachings.
Nothing unless, possibly the witchcraft delusion at Salem, excited the colony as did this disturbance in both church and state. While much has been written, so much of partisanship is displayed in all the statements that it is with great difficulty that we are able really to separate the facts from jealousy and bitterness. During the first few months of her stay she seems to have been commended for her faithful attendance at church, her care of the sick, and her benevolent attitude toward the community.
Even her meetings for the sisters were praised by the pastors. But, not content with holding meetings for her neighbors, she criticised the preachers and their teachings. This was especially irritating to the good Elders, because woman was supposed to be the silent member in the household and meeting-house, and not capable of offering worthy criticism. But even then the matter might have been passed in silence if the church and state had not been one, and the pastors politicians. Hutchinson, a kinsman of the rebellious leader, says in his History of Massachusetts Bay :.
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Vane had remained in England, or had not craftily made use of the party which maintained these peculiar opinions in religion, to bring him into civil power and authority and draw the affections of the people from those who were their leaders into the wilderness, these, like many other errors, might have prevailed a short time without any disturbance to the state, and as the absurdity of them appeared, silently subsided, and posterity would not have known that such a woman as Mrs. Hutchinson ever existed It is difficult to discover, from Mr.
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Cotton's own account of his principles published ten years afterwards, in his answer to Bailey, wherein he differed from her He seems to have been in danger when she was upon trial. Winthrop, whose influence was now greater than ever, protected him. Just what were Anne Hutchinson's doctrines no one has ever been able to determine; even Winthrop, a very able, clear-headed man who was well versed in Puritan theology, and who was one of her most powerful opponents, said he was unable to define them.
Her teachings were not unlike those of the Quietists and that of the "Inner Light," set forth by the Quakers—a doctrine that has always held a charm for people who enjoy the mystical. But it was not so much the doctrines probably as the fact that she and her followers were a disturbing element that caused her expulsion from a colony where it was vital and necessary to the existence of the settlement that harmony should prevail. There had been great hardships and sacrifices; even yet the colony was merely a handful of people surrounded by thousands of active enemies. If these colonists were to live there must be uniformity and conformity.
These were Antinomians, followers of Anne Hutchinson, who suspected their chaplain of being under a 'Covenant of works,' whereas their doctrine was one should live under a 'Covenant of grace. It was the very life of the colony that they should have conformity, and all of them as one man could scarcely withstand the Indians. Therefore this religious doctrine was working rebellion and sedition, and endangering the very existence of the state. Mistress Hutchinson was given a church trial, and after long days of discussion was banished. Her sentence as recorded stands as follows: "Mrs.
Hutchinson, the wife of Mr. William Hutchinson, being convented for traducing the ministers and their ministry in the country, she declared voluntarily her revelation, and that she should be delivered, and the court ruined with her posterity, and thereupon was banished. At her trial she was certainly the equal of the ministers in her sharp and puzzling replies. The theological discussion was exciting and many were the fine-spun, hair-splitting doctrines brought forward on either side; but to-day the mere reading of them is a weariness to the flesh.
Anne Hutchinson's efforts, according to some viewpoints, may have been a failure, but they revealed in unmistakable manner the emotional starvation of Puritan womanhood. Women, saddened by their hardships, depressed by their religion, denied an open love for beauty, with none of the usual food for imagination or the common outlets for emotions, such as the modern woman has in her magazines, books, theatre and social functions, flocked with eagerness to hear this feminine radical.
They seemed to realize that their souls were starving for something—they may not have known exactly what. At first they may have gone to the assemblies simply because such an unusual occurrence offered at least a change or a diversion; but a very little listening seems to have convinced them that this woman understood the female heart far better than did John Cotton or any other male pastor of the settlements.deadlia.tk
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Moreover, the theory of "inner light" or the "covenant of grace" undoubtedly appealed as something novel and refreshing after the prolonged soul fast under the harshness and intolerance of the Calvinistic creed. The women told their women friends of the new theories, and wives and mothers talked of the matter to husbands and fathers until gradually a great number of men became interested. The churches of Massachusetts Bay Colony were in imminent danger of losing their grasp upon the people and the government. It is evident that in the home at least the Puritan woman was not entirely the silent, meek creature she was supposed to be; her opinions were not only heard by husband and father but heeded with considerable respect.
And what became of this first woman leader in America? Whether the fate of this woman was typical of what was in store for all female speakers and women outside their place is not stated by the elders; but they were firm in their belief that her death was an appropriate punishment. She removed to Rhode Island and later to New York, where she and all her family, with the exception of one person, were killed by the Indians.
As Thomas Welde says in the preface of A Short Story of the Rise, Wane and Ruin of the Antinomians : "I never heard that the Indians in these parts did ever before commit the like outrage upon any one family, or families; and therefore God's hand is the more apparently seen herein, to pick out this woful woman, to make her and those belonging to her an unheard of heavy example of their cruelty above others. It was at staid Boston that Anne Hutchinson marshalled her forces; it was at peace-loving Salem that the Devil marshalled his witches in a last despairing onslaught against the saints.
To many readers there may seem to be little or no connection between witchcraft and religion; but an examination of the facts leading to the execution of the various martyrs to superstition at Salem will convince the skeptical that there was a most intimate relationship between the Puritan creed and the theory of witchcraft.
Looking back after the passing of more than two hundred years, we cannot but deem it strange that such an enlightened, educated and thoroughly intelligent folk as the Puritans could have believed in the possession of this malignant power. Especially does it appear incredible when we remember that here was a people that came to this country for the exercise of religious freedom, a citizenship that was descended from men trained in the universities of England, a stalwart band that under extreme privation had founded a college within sixteen years after the settlement of a wilderness.
It must be borne in mind, however, that the Massachusetts colonies were not alone in this belief in witchcraft. It was common throughout the world, and was as aged as humanity. Deprived of the aid of modern science in explaining peculiar processes and happenings, man had long been accustomed to fall back upon devils, witches, and evil spirits as premises for his arguments.
While the execution of the witch was not so common an event elsewhere in the world, during the Salem period, yet it was not unknown among so-called enlightened people. As late as a woman was burned near London for witchcraft, and several city clergymen were among the prosecutors. A few extracts from colonial writings should make clear the attitude of the Puritan leaders toward these unfortunates accused of being in league with the devil. Winthrop thus records a case in "At the court one Margaret Jones of Charlestown was indicted and found guilty of witchcraft, and hanged for it.
The evidence against her was, that she was found to have such a malignant touch, as many persons, men, women, and children , whom she stroked or touched with any affection or displeasure, etc.
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Some things which she foretold came to pass Her behaviour at her trial was very intemperate, lying notoriously, and railing upon the jury and witnesses, etc. The same day and hour, she was executed, there was a very great tempest at Connecticut, which blew down many trees, etc. Whether in North or in South, whether among Protestants or Catholics, this belief in witchcraft existed.
In one of the annual letters of the "English Province of the Society of Jesus," written in , we find the following comment concerning the belief among emigrants to Maryland: "The tempest lasted two months in all, whence the opinion arose, that it was not raised by the violence of the sea or atmosphere, but was occasioned by the malevolence of witches.
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