Sunday, July 22, 2007

American Jezebel by Eve LaPlante Book Review

American Jezebel
By Eve LaPlante
Harper 2004
Website Anne Hutchinson

I chose this book for the Non Fiction Challenge, but it's taken me a few weeks to finish it. Not because of all the religion, but because of the language. Did they really speak like that in the 1600's??

"I did not hold diverse of these things I am accused of, but did only ask a question"

These days we would say, "I only asked a question. What's wrong with that?"

Back in Anne's day (the mid 1600s) there was plenty wrong with asking a question. But she didn't ask just one question. She asked lots of questions. And that was just plain wrong. First because she was a woman. Second because she asked someone who was not her husband, and third because she began teaching other women.

Anne believed that people could communicate directly with God - without the help of ministers or the Bible. This was in direct contradiction with the established religion.

The Puritans adhered very strictly to the Bible - especially the New Testament. Where it says women shall remain silent at worship, Puritan women were EXPECTED (actually it was legalized as law) to stay silent in church. ONLY the men could speak, preach, ask and answer questions.

The Bible also says that a women should ask her husband if she had any questions. Anne persisted in asking the church leaders - none of whom were her husband. He was a merchant and farmer.

And lastly the Bible says that women may teach only other women, Anne began doing that, which was acceptable, until her teachings began straying away from Puritan teaching. The Puritans believed in the freedom to worship, but not the the freedom to think.

Puritan ministers taught that people could only find God by following the teachings of the Bible. And that only they (the ministers) could interpret the Bible correctly. At meetings she held in her Boston home, Hutchinson criticized the teachings of the colony's ministers.

Eventually she was brought to trial, and in a very biased trial (not one woman was allowed to speak on her behalf) she was eventually found guilty and banished from Boston. So the family moved to what is now Rhode Island. Where they lived happily and peacefully for a number of years. Anne's husband, William Hutchinson, died there.

Rhode Island was founded on the belief of "freedom of religion". One could believe whatever one wanted to, as long as one did NOT disturb the peace of the community. There was no church, no organised meetings, and therefore very few records. But when rumours of Massachusetts (and Boston) wanting to expand and take over the Rhode Island colony,started up, Anne decided to move again. She refused to live under Puritan (puritanical??) laws again.

So she and several of her younger children moved to what is now the Bronx in New York City. Back then, it was part of Nieuw Amsterdam under the Dutch. In Massachusetts, the native Indians were somewhat peacful with the Puritan colonists. Anne had never had any trouble with them, in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. She beleived that the same would be true for the Dutch colony. Unfortunately she was wrong.

In the Summer of 1643, Anne Hutchinson and six of her youngest children were scalped and beheaded by the Siwanoy Indian tribe. A seventh child escaped the masscre by hiding in the Split Rock close to the junction of Hutchinson River Parkway and Route 95, on the northern edge of the Pelham Bay Split Rock Golf Course. This child, Susan, lived with the Indians for several years before returning to Boston to be with her older siblings. She eventually married, moved to Rhode Island and raised a large family.

The Title "American Jezebel" comes directly from Governor John Winthrop of Masschusetts, who wrote that Anne was exactly like Queen Jezebel of the Bible - a witch, a whore and a heathen.

Anne Hutchinson had 15 children, all of whom survived infancy - which in that century was very rare. Half of the children were born in England, and half in America. Anne was a midwife. She knew how to birth children and how to keep the family healthy. Two of her children died of the plague in England before they moved to America. Six of them were killed by Indians.

Five of the older children (and also Susan the youngest survivor) survived to adulthood and married, having families of their own. When Anne was banished from Boston, some of these older children stayed in Boston because they already had their own families. And some of them moved to Rhode Island. There are now numerous descendents scattered through America. Including the author Eve LaPlante and Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George H W Bush and George W Bush.

A statue of Anne Hutchinson now stands in front of the State House in Boston. The inscription on the plaque at the bottom of the statue reads:

In Memory of
Anne Marbury Hutchinson
Baptized at Alford
Lincolnshire England
20 - July 1595
Killed by the Indians
at East Chester New York 1643
Courageous Exponent
of Civil Liberty
and Religious Toleration

I enjoyed the book for the very detailed history. Ms LaPlante has obviously spent a lot of time doing the research. But the language (taken directly from trial transcripts) is somewhat difficult to understand.

No comments: