by George Colon
May 16, 2019
Anne Hutchinson came early to the Bronx in 1643 from New England, uprooting and replanting herself twice on new soil, a bold, strong woman ahead of her time. First, she arrived from Lincolnshire, England with her husband William to the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony dominated by Puritan males obsessed with God.
Anne Hutchinson, too, heard God who inspired her to read the bible and preach. Yes, she could read, unlike most women – most people – at the time.
“I don’t need men telling me what to do,” she believed and started a bible class at home, preaching to her neighbors.
“You’re all wrong about that business of predetermination. Women can also talk to God.” Her husband supported her.
“Quiet, woman,” the Puritan fathers insisted. “Women can’t preach any more than they can wear pants. Do you forget what followed when Eve forgot her place?”
They locked up Anne, who defended herself at her trial.
“You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm, for I am in the hands of the eternal Jehovah, my Savior, I am at his appointment, the bounds of my habitation are cast in heaven, no further do I esteem of any mortal man than creatures in his hand, I fear none but the great Jehovah, who has foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands, therefore, take heed how you proceed against me; for I know for this you go about to do me, God will ruin you and your posterity, and this whole state.”
These dreary, intolerant people burned women at the stake after the infamous witchcraft hysteria in Salem. Does it sound like the plot of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter where they pin a scarlet A on Hester Prynne and his House of the Seven Gables? Yes, Ann probably inspired him.
In the latter tale, a witch condemned to burn at the stake cursed the judges whose descendants later died one by one.
They spared Anne a burning at the stake, but expelled her from their promised land, driving her not east of Eden, but south of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
In the more tolerant Rhode Island that welcomed Roger Williams, Catholics, and even Jews, she found temporary refuge. In Newport, one can still read the letter Washington wrote them in the synagogue there. He thanked them for supporting the Revolution and holds out future tolerance. But there, too, Ann, always questioning male authority, sparred with Governor Coddington, her earlier supporter who also sought to keep her in her place.
So, it was on to New Netherlands, where the more tolerant Dutch gave her haven in Bronksland, north of Jonas Bronck’s Emmaus farm. Anne Hutchinson, now widowed, with 16 children, settled in the Bronx, north of Pelham Bay Park where Co-Op City now sits, in Anne’s Hoeck (Ann’s Neck).
By all accounts she treated the Indians well. She never conned them, like other settlers, and tried to level and work things out. She sowed seeds of faith in the minds of her Indian neighbors, who no doubt branded her the first illegal immigrant in the borough. These seeds never germinated, though a brief coexistence followed as long as few settlers disturbed Indian farmland and hunting grounds.
But trouble brewed to the boiling point in the frontier settlement of Broncksland. Though Jonas Bronck mediated a brief peace, war soon broke out Ann turned the other cheek and continued talking to the Indian sachem Wampage.
“You must convert,” she no doubt told them. “Forsake your ways and accept our God, the only true God, and his son, Jesus.”
“You mean the Great Holy spirit?” Wampage probably retorted. “He has no son.”
“Yes, a son who died and will return.”
“You folks are crazy. The dead return only in dreams. You’re on our land. Leave.”
“You’re on my land. I bought it from you, remember?”
“How can one buy land? Will you buy the clouds, too? Both belong to everybody.”
“You don’t understand.”
“No, YOU don’t understand.” Wampage smashed an ax against the other cheek not turned in time. The Siwanoy Indians went on further rampage.
Though they killed poor Anne, she lives on in both the river and the highway named for her. They wiped out her entire family, but spared a daughter, Susanna, fascinated by her red hair. They adopted her and she soon forgot English. When ransomed later, Susanna refused to return.
Born in Puerto Rico, George Colon survived the South Bronx’s distractions and received a street education, earning degrees in English and education as well. For thirty years, he taught English, Global and Spanish in Bronx schools, publishing two Bronx set novels and other works.
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