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Book review: American Jezebel by Eve LaPlante

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Anne Hutchinson - American Jezebel but Eve LaPlanteAnne Hutchinson was a name I knew *vaguely* from my history classes growing up. She had her own opinion about religion and was kicked out of the colony for it. Or something like that, right?

Hutchinson is one of those historic characters (like Governeur Morris or Benjamin Rush) who might occasionally pop up in other biographies and histories, but books solely devoted to her are very very few. So, of course, I grabbed the first one I found – American Jezebel – The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante.

Know before you read

The author, Eve LaPlante, is an 11th-generation granddaughter of Hutchinson. Presumably this is one of the reasons why she was drawn to write about Hutchinson in the first place. But I imagine that connection also clouded her objectivity about her subject.

Also, be prepared for the fact that almost all of what historians now know about Hutchinson is from second-hand accounts from the men in her life (both her allies and enemies). The sole exception is the transcript from her trial – in which she can more than handle her own defense.

Anne Hutchinson

I can’t help but wonder as I’m reading this how different Hutchinson’s outcome would have been if she wasn’t a student of one of the most powerful ministers and the wife of one of the richest men in Boston. She may have been a woman (unable to vote, teach, etc), but she still did hold her own kind of power.

While she learned and worshiped under John Cotton, Hutchinson theories and opinions of the nature of her religion developed their own thread. And those theories developed into a small group she led out of her home. Which, of course, threatened the male patriarchy of Boston and led to her trial for slandering the ministers and troubling the peace of the commonwealth.

We all know the ending – she was found guilty of what Winthrop and the other magistrates accused her of, she was banished from Boston and went on to found a new settlement of Portsmouth, Rhode Island (even though as a woman she was not allowed to sign the Compact). Not a terribly different fate than Roger Williams, with the glaring difference that Hutchinson was a woman.

Note: There’s a little bit about Anne Hutchinson in The Wordy Shipmates. It’s a great little look at how very intelligent Hutchinson was – especially in matching wits with Boston magistrate John Winthrop.

American Jezebel – The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante is really easy to read and is probably your best bet for an in depth look at Anne Hutchinson’s life. It’s not *terribly* well-written, but just for the content it should be a must-read especially for anyone interested in women’s history, Puritan history or off-the-beaten track historical figures.

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