Exile in Rhode Island

Roger Williams arrives in Rhode Island.
An artist's perhaps fanciful depiction of Roger Williams' reception by the Narragansett in Rhode Island in the 1630s.

A woman often on the move in her adult life, Anne Hutchinson's exile home in Rhode Island from 1638 to 1642 had the advantages and disadvantages of location. Situated just across the border from Massachusetts Bay colony, Rhode Island was home to Roger Williams, an earlier exile from Massachusetts orthodoxy who was sympathetic to Anne's religious views. Anne's refugee group, which settled in Portsmouth, included her husband, several family members and about sixty followers. The group established reasonably amicable relations with the native Indians, who were not at war with the Europeans.

But while Rhode Island was an obvious choice for exile because it was so close to Boston, it was also a problem for that reason. Puritan authorities, particularly Governor Winthrop, continued to harass Anne. At a time of deep religious belief, most events were viewed in the context of Providence, and Anne's abnormal pregnancy (a hydatidiform mole), which became public knowledge in the summer of 1638, was cited in Boston by Governor Winthrop and Reverend Cotton as a sign of God's disfavor with Hutchinson. The religious controversies she had spawned in Massachusetts persisted, and officials continued to purge her influence by prosecuting her adherents. The death of her husband William sometime in 1642 rendered Anne's life in Rhode Island untenable and she sought greater distance from Boston, in an area beyond Puritan control, which took her to New Netherland, where freedom of conscience was practiced in accordance with Dutch laws.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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