Archive for the ‘Macedonian Call’ Tag

Feast of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson (April 18)   4 comments

Above:  Flag of Rhode Island

Image in the Public Domain



Founder of Rhode Island



Rebellious Puritan




Well-behaved women seldom make history.

–Laurel Thatcher Ulrich


Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils.

–Roger Williams


The feast day of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson in The Episcopal Church is February 5.  On my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, however, the feast day is April 18.  The irony of Williams and Hutchinson, who left The Church of England, which they considered too Catholic, being saints on the Episcopal calendar, does not escape me.  I interpret the irony as an indication of the broad mindedness of The Episcopal Church.

Anne Marbury, born in Alford, Lincolnshire, England, in 1591, was a daughter of the Reverend Francis Marbury (1555-1611) and his second wife, Bridget Dryden, a cousin of playwright John Dryden (1631-1700).  Anne, baptized on July 17, 1591, grew up in a home with strong Puritan influences.  Her mother had strong nonconformist roots.  Francis, an Anglican priest, insisted publicly that was not a Puritan, but he made occasional public denunciations of The Church of England for being too Catholic.  Such statements belied his public denials of not being a Puritan and led to two trials (in 1578 and 1591) and years (as in 1591-1594) of house arrest, followed by public silence regarding certain opinions.  His life and double life ended, due to natural causes, in 1611.

Francis Marbury supervised the education of his children who survived infancy.  He and his first wife (Elizabeth Moore, who died in 1585) had three daughters from 1581 to 1585.  Marbury and his second wife had fifteen children from 1588 to 1610.  Anne was his sixth child and his third child with Bridget Dryden.  He and Bridget raised Anne as a well-educated, Biblically literate, confident, and assertive young woman.

In 1612 Anne married William Hutchinson, with whom she had grown up in London and who had attended her father’s church.  They were devoted to each other for the rest of their lives.  The couple also had fifteen children from 1613 to 1636.  (Her final pregnancy terminated via miscarriage in 1636.)  Anne, William, ten of their children, Katherine Marbury Scott (Anne’s sister), Katherine’s husband, and Anne and Frances Freiston (William’s unmarried cousins) sailed for Boston, Massachusetts Bay colony, in 1634.

Above:  The Coat of Arms of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Image in the Public Domain

Notice the arrogant reference to the Macedonian Call in the Indian’s words.

Puritans came in two varieties–the Separatists and the Non-Separatists.  The Separatist Puritans considered The Church of England to be too Catholic and beyond the possibility of redemption.  The Non-Separatist Puritans agreed that The Church of England was too Catholic yet not that it was beyond the possibility of redemption.  Despite their de jure status as Anglicans, the Non-Separatist Puritans of New England had separated de facto, for they did not worship according to The Book of Common Prayer.

Roger Williams was a Separatist Puritan.  He, born in London (perhaps in 1603), was a son of merchant James Williams and his wife, Alice Pemberton Williams, who hailed from a family of merchants.  Young Roger worked as a legal clerk for Sir Edward Coke.  Williams also studied at the Charterhouse (1621-1624) then at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge (1624-1627).  After Cambridge our saint became the chaplain to Sir William Marsham in Otes, Essex County.  In that assignment Williams completed his transformation from an Anglican into a Puritan.

Williams sailed for the new Massachusetts Bay colony (Non-Separatist) in late 1630 and arrived the following year.  He declined the opportunity to become the minister at Salem.  Not only did he insist that a royal land grant was illegitimate because colonists should purchase land from indigenous people, but he also refused to be a pastor to Non-Separatists.  So, in 1632, Williams relocated to the Plymouth colony (Separatist).  There he remained for about a year; his opinion regarding royal land grants also proved unpopular in the Plymouth colony.

So it came to pass that Williams returned to the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1633.  He finally accepted the offer to become the minister at Salem, but civil magistrates opposed him.  Williams called upon the leaders of the colony to do officially what they had done in practice–separate from The Church of England.  He also argued that the civil magistrate should have no role in religion.  The state should never compel anyone to pray, Williams stated.

The call for the separation of church and state contradicted Puritan and Anglican norms.  Contrary to popular misconception, the founders of the Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay colonies were not champions of religious freedom.  No, they left England proper to find religious liberty for themselves and those who agreed with them, but persecuted dissidents.  The founders of those colonies failed the basic test of religious freedom–a general policy of toleration.  Williams was more fortunate that some other dissidents; his fate was merely banishment.  (Authorities hanged some Quakers decades later.)  He and his traveling companions walked out of the Massachusetts Bay colony in January 1636.  In April they arrived that the future site of the settlement of Providence.  He purchased the land from the Narragansett tribe, befriended them, and learned their language.

Meanwhile, in Boston, Anne was being herself and getting into trouble.  The fact that she got into trouble reflected negatively on her persecutors, not on her.  At home meetings during which she, other pious women, and certain others discussed the most recent sermon, she criticized the theology of the Reverend John Wilson.  Anne, a devout Calvinist, accused Wilson of having preached the Covenant of Works, not the Covenant of Grace.  Ministers were pillars of the theocracy in Puritan New England.  They were also, according to Puritan orthodoxy, closer to God than mere laypeople–certainly a woman.  Furthermore, Hutchinson taught that the Holy Spirit dwells in everyone and that salvation comes via divine grace.  Her teaching regarding the Holy Spirit (literally, God speaks to everyone) threatened the exalted status of ministers in the Puritan hierarchy.  Hutchinson, brought up on charges in 1637 and sentenced to banishment late in the year, spent the beginning of the year and the beginning of the next one as a prisoner, due to the cold weather.  She and her companions settled on Aquidneck Island in the spring of 1638.  During this difficult time of her life she was pregnant.  After she left the Massachusetts Bay colony, she suffered a miscarriage.  Certain Puritan divines understood this as evidence of God’s judgment on her.

William Hutchinson became a civic leader in Portsmouth, on Aquidneck Island.  In 1639 he became the treasurer.  Later that year he became he the chief magistrate.  In 1640, when Aquidneck Island joined the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, he became an assistant governor.  He died the following year.

In 1642-1644 Rhode Island was in peril, for orthodox Puritan forces were threatening to conquer it.  Williams secured the future of the colony by obtaining charter from the royal government in 1644.  During the time of uncertainty, however, Anne and six of her children relocated to Long Island, then part of New Netherland, in 1642.  There, in August or September 1643, some Native Americans killed her and five of her children.  This, certain Puritan divines in Massachusetts claimed, was more evidence of divine judgment on her.

Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was one of the minority of the thirteen colonies to have no official religion.  Religious toleration was the policy there.  Williams had definite and changing religious opinions, none of which he imposed on anyone.  His house church became the First Baptist Church, Providence, in 1637.  He resigned as pastor the following year.  He went on to identify as a seeker and to reject organized religion.  The colony became a haven for a variety of people, including Quakers (founded in England in 1652), aspects of whose theology Anne Hutchinson had presaged.  Williams argued publicly against Quaker theology, but he welcomed Friends into his colony.

Williams, who supported himself financially as a farmer and a merchant, died broke; his commerce never recovered from the great regional disruption that was King Philip’s War (1675-1676).  Williams between January 27 and March 15, 1683, aged about 80 years.

Alan Heimert concluded his article on Williams in The Encyclopedia Americana (1962) with these words:

Roger Williams, who even as a shaker of nations had never been wholly of this world, was perhaps the purest of American Puritans.

–Volume 28, page 792

Williams was certainly a man committed to certain principles.  He was, for all his faults and inconsistencies, a champion of religious toleration.  He and Anne Hutchinson, with whom he might have had some fascinating arguments, challenged authority figures who deserved the challenges.  These two saints were pioneers of American religious liberty.







O God, our light and salvation, who makes all free to worship you:

May we ever strive to be faithful to your call,

following the example of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson,

that we may faithfully set our hands to the Gospel plow,

confident in the truth proclaimed by your Son Jesus Christ; who with you

and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016)


O God, our light and salvation, we thank you for Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson,

whose visions of the liberty of the soul illumined by the light of Christ

made them brave prophets of religious tolerance in the American colonies;

and we pray that we also may follow paths of holiness and good conscience,

guided by the radiance of Jesus Christ; who with you and the

Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Kings 17:1-16

Psalm 133

1 Peter 1:13-16

Luke 9:51-62

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 211