An attempt to place Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643) as an early feminist, after being expelled from Massachusetts Bay colony in 1638 on charges of heresy and sedition.
LaPlante (Seized, 1993) begins with Hutchinson's trial before the Massachusetts General Court. Her real offenses, the author argues, consisted of building up a power base from which she challenged the colony's established church and government. LaPlante recapitulates Hutchinson's childhood in England, where her father capitulated to the power of the Anglican hierarchy. Anne, the second of 15 children, left England rather than bend to a church she considered corrupt. Convinced that she could distinguish those who were saved from those who were foredoomed, she stalked out of one Boston church rather than hear what she considered false doctrine. She began holding Bible discussion groups in her home, attended at first by other women, but increasingly by men. Convinced that her criticisms of the clergy would undermine the government, Governor John Winthrop brought her to trial. The outcome, LaPlante makes clear, was never in serious doubt. Arcane as the theological issues seem (her heresy was officially diagnosed as Antinomianism), the central issue was that a woman dared challenge the establishment. Banished from the colony, she moved to nearby Rhode Island, where she is today recognized as one of the founders of the state, as well as inspiration for its official policy of religious tolerance. Upon the death of her husband a few years later, she moved to upstate New York, where she and her large family perished in an Indian raid, having refused to arm themselves. LaPlante effectively details the intellectual climate in which Hutchinson flourished, and gives a vivid picture of 17th-century life in England and the colonies.
Hutchinson's courage is beyond question, but LaPlante never manages to make her any more sympathetic than her Puritan opponents.