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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710–1775

Thomas Hutchinson

THOMAS HUTCHINSON, last royal governor of Massachusetts, and the best of the colonial historians, was born in Boston September 9, 1711, and died at Brompton, England, June 3, 1780. He was a descendant of that Ann Hutchinson whose trial and banishment for heresy he describes in an extract here given. His great-grandfather Edward had returned to Massachusetts, and the family had attained distinction and wealth. Their most noted representative was graduated at Harvard in 1727. Broad-minded and receptive rather than studious, he made himself a liberally educated man, but no pedantic scholar. Four years in his father’s counting-house gave him business training and made him methodically exact. In 1737 he was chosen selectman for Boston, and almost immediately afterward, representative to the General Court, in which he vainly resisted the attempt to issue a depreciated paper currency. His wise and patriotic counsels were little heeded, but his integrity and ability extorted recognition, and his prominence both in the local politics of the colony and in its relations to the mother country, led, in 1756, to his appointment as lieutenant-governor, to which was shortly added the office of chief justice (1760). He was the greatest financier of the colonial period, and a just administrator, but his energetic administration made him unpopular. His house was sacked by a mob in 1765, and his carefully collected library destroyed, an irreparable loss to American historians. His conduct of affairs during the troubled years that followed was vigorous and consistent with his principles, which were not, however, those destined to triumph. In 1770 he was made governor, but four years later was superseded by General Gage, and went to England, followed by the execrations of the people he had endeavored to serve. All his colonial property was confiscated. Hutchinson, although a convinced Tory, was an ardent patriot, whose Diary and Letters (2 vols., 1884–1886) show how gladly he would have returned to America. His History of Massachusetts Bay (2 vols., 1764–1767, Vol. 3, 1828) bears witness to his judicial mind, and to a distinct talent for historical research, but its style is rather heavy, and there is a conspicuous lack of the historical imagination. The work is, however, regarded as an indispensable authority by historical students.

Mrs. Hutchinson’s Heresies.
[From the “History,” Chap. I.]

THERE came over with Mr. Cotton, or about the same time, Mr. Hutchinson and his family, who had lived at Alford, in the neighborhood of Boston. Mr. Hutchinson had a good estate, and was of good reputation. His wife, as Mr. Cotton says, “was well beloved, and all the faithful embraced her conference and blessed God for her fruitful discourses.” After she came to New-England, she was treated with respect, and much notice was taken of her by Mr. Cotton, and other principal persons, and particularly by Mr. Vane the governor. Her husband served in the General Court several elections as a representative for Boston, until he was excused at the desire of the church. So much respect seems to have increased her natural vanity. Countenanced and encouraged by Mr. Vane and Mr. Cotton, she advanced doctrines and opinions which involved the colony in disputes and contentions; and, being improved to civil as well as religious purposes, had like to have produced ruin both to church and state. The vigilance of some, of whom Mr. Winthrop was the chief, prevented and turned the ruin from the country, upon herself and many of her family and particular friends. Mr. Wheelwright, a zealous minister, of character for learning and piety, was her brother-in-law, and firmly attached to her, and finally suffered with her. Besides the meetings for public worship on the Lord’s day, the stated lecture every Thursday in Boston, and other occasional lectures in other towns, there were frequent private meetings of the brethren of the churches for religious exercises. Mrs. 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. After some time, it appeared she had distinguished the ministers and members of churches through the country, a small part of them under a covenant of grace, the rest under a convenant of works. The whole colony was soon divided into two parties, and however distant one party was from the other in principle, they were still more so in affection. The two capital errors with which she was charged, were these: That the Holy Ghost dwells personally in a justified person; and, that nothing of sanctification can help to evidence to believers their justification. From these two a great number of others were said to flow, which were enumerated and condemned at a synod held the next year.

Her Trial.
[From the Same.]

MRS. HUTCHINSON was next called to her trial, before the whole court and many of the elders. An ancient manuscript of the trial at large having been preserved, discovers nothing in her conduct but what might naturally be expected from a high degree of enthusiasm. Her notions of revelations do not seem to have been altogether discountenanced by Mr. Cotton himself. Her sentence upon record stands thus: “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, and in the meanwhile was committed to Mr. Joseph Weld (of Roxbury) until the court shall dispose of her.” Having received her sentence from the court, she had a further trial to go through in the church. She was first admonished. Mr. Cotton says that Mr. Davenport and he imagined they had convinced her of her errors, and she presented what was called a recantation under her hand, but at the same time professed that she never was of any other judgment than what she now held forth. The recantation is not preserved. She had, no doubt, some fine-spun distinctions, too commonly made use of in theological controversies, to serve as a subterfuge if there be occasion, and perhaps, as many other enthusiasts have done, she considered herself divinely commissioned for some great purpose, to obtain which she might think those windings, subtleties, and insinuations lawful which will hardly consist with the rules of morality. No wonder she was immoderately vain when she found magistrates and ministers embracing the novelties advanced by her. The whole Church of Boston, a few members excepted, were her converts. At length she forsook the public assemblies, and set up what she called a purer worship in her own family.

Her Fate.
[From the Same.]

MR. HUTCHINSON her husband sold his estate, and removed with his wife and family first to Aquidneck (Rhode Island) being one of the purchasers of that island from the Indians, where, by the influence of his wife, the people laid aside Mr. Coddington, and three other magistrates, and chose him for their sole ruler; but he dying about the year 1642, and she being dissatisfied with the people of the place, she removed to the Dutch country beyond New-Haven, and the next year she and all her family which were with her, being 16 persons, were killed by the Indians, except one daughter, whom they carried into captivity.

Religious Observances.
[From the Same, Chap. IV.]

THE MINISTERS of the several churches in the town of Boston have ever been supported by a free weekly contribution. I have seen a letter from one of the principal ministers of the colony expressing some doubts of the lawfulness of receiving a support in any other way. In the country towns, compulsory laws were found necessary; and in the year 1654 the county courts were empowered to assess upon the inhabitants of the several towns which neglected the support of the ministry a sum sufficient to make up the defect.

In Boston, after prayer and before singing, it was the practice for several years for the minister to read and expound a chapter. Whether it was because this carried the service to too great a length, or any other reason could be given for it, in a few years it was laid aside, except when it came in place of a sermon. Exceptions (may we not say cavils?) have been made, by some learned, serious ministers, against reading the Scriptures as part of the divine service without an exposition. The other parts of religious public worship, and the manner of administering the sacraments, not differing from what is at this day the practice of the churches of New England and of the church of Scotland, it is unnecessary to take any notice of them.

From a sacred regard to the religion of the Christian Sabbath, a scruple arose of the lawfulness of calling the first day of the week Sunday; and they always, upon any occasion, whether in a civil or religious relation to it, styled it either the Lord’s-day or the Sabbath. As the exception to the word Sunday was founded upon its superstitious, idolatrous origin, the same scruple naturally followed with respect to the names of all the other days of the week, and of most of the months, which had the same origin; accordingly they changed Monday, Tuesday, etc. into the second and third days of the week; and instead of March and April, used the first and second months; and instead of the third Tuesday in May, the language was, the third third day of the third month; and so of the rest. All their records and other writings are dated in the common form, which they brought from England with them, until the year 1636, when Mr. Vane was governor; but after that, the alteration seems to have been very strictly observed in all public and private writings and discourse, for many years together. In the interregnum it much obtained in England; but the scruple there went off at once, upon the Restoration; here, it abated; and it continues scarce anywhere at this day, except among the people called Quakers. Perhaps the great dislike to some other peculiarities of that people caused the decline of that custom in the colony, and made them consider the singularity in the same light with some others of the same nature, which they condemned. (They began the Sabbath the evening of the last day of the week. It was some time before this custom was settled. Mr. Hooker, in a letter without date, but wrote about the year 1640, says, “The question touching the beginning of the Sabbath is now on foot among us, hath once been spoken to, and we are to give in our arguments each to the other, so that we may ripen our thoughts touching that truth, and if the Lord will it may more fully appear.” And in another letter, March, 1640, “Mr. Huit hath not answered our arguments against the beginning the Sabbath at morning.”)

That everything approaching to an acknowledgment of the authority of the Pope, and his power of canonization, might be avoided, they never used the addition of saint when they spake of the Apostles and the ancient Fathers of the Christian Church, and even the usual names of places were made to conform. The island of Saint Christophers was always written Christophers, and by the same rule all other places to which “Saint” had been prefixed. If any exception was made, an answer was ready: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had as good right to this appellation as Peter, James and John.

They laid aside the fasts and feasts of the Church of England, and appointed frequently, as occasion required, days of fasting and thanksgiving; but, besides these occasional fasts and thanksgivings, they constantly, every spring, appointed a day for fasting and prayer, to implore the divine blessings upon their affairs in the ensuing year; and in the fall, a day of thanksgiving and public acknowledgment of the favors conferred upon them in the year past. If they more readily fell into this practice from the example of the People of God of old, yet they might well have been justified without any example. It has continued without interruption, I suppose, in any one instance, down to this day. This is a custom to which no devout person of any sect will take exception. By a law of the colony, every person absenting himself from the public worship, on these days, without sufficient excuse, was liable to five shillings fine. It would have been as well, perhaps, if this provision had been omitted.

These were the principal of the special ecclesiastical or religious customs. There were some attempts to introduce singularities into some of the churches; particularly Mr. Davenport, of New Haven, who afterward removed to Boston, required all his congregation to stand up whilst the text was naming; the principal reason which was given for it being that it was the word of God, and deserved peculiar honor; and Mr. Williams, of Salem, required all the women of his congregation to wear veils; but neither of these customs spread, or were of any long continuance. It was observed, as to the latter, that so uncouth an appearance, contrary to the practice of the English nation, would probably draw more eyes than if they were dressed like other women. Mr. Cotton, of Boston, happening to preach at Salem soon after this custom began, he convinced his hearers that it had no sufficient foundation in the Scriptures: the married women had no pretence to wear veils as virgins; neither married nor unmarried would choose to do it from the example of Tamar the harlot, nor need they do it for such purpose as Ruth did in her widowhood. His sermon had so good an effect that they were all ashamed of their veils, and never appeared covered with them afterward.