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American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans 1st Edition

72 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060562335
ISBN-10: 0060562331
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

*Starred Review.* LaPlante, an 11th-generation granddaughter of Hutchinson, provides a fast-paced and elegant account of Hutchinson's life and work, including the reasons that Hutchinson's teachings threatened the fabric of Puritan theology. By the time she was born, her father, Francis Marbury, had already been in and out of jail for challenging the religious authority of the Anglican priests in England. His continuing nonconformity, according to LaPlante, had a lasting impact on Hutchinson's own views of religious authority. Hutchinson also learned from the Reverend John Cotton that God's revelation to individuals occurred mystically as a kind of inner light and did not require a formal religious setting. After she moved to the colonies with her husband, William Hutchinson, she began to teach that men and women could attain salvation not through performing religious works but through this inward grace. The Puritans, who emphasized that the covenant of works was the only guarantee of salvation, charged her with antinomianism (an attack against the law of God) and with violating God's commands that a woman should not teach. LaPlante offers a stimulating account of Hutchinson's eloquent self-defense at her trial. Knowing that the magistrates had no religious or political grounds to convict her, since a woman was not a subject of the law, Hutchinson stymied their questioning. LaPlante's first-rate biography offers glimpses into the life and teachings of a much-neglected figure in early American religious history.
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From Booklist

Much ado is often made over the contributions of the founding fathers to the liberties Americans enjoy today, but with rare exceptions, such as the achievements of Abigail Adams and Betsy Ross, the roles women played in formulating our national philosophy are very little known. Moreover, the stories that are known include only scanty information about the players' personal history and their words. Thanks to LaPlante, at least some of Anne Hutchinson's words are preserved in this well-researched account of her testimony against charges of heresy and sedition before the Massachusetts General Court in 1637. Declared an American Jezebel by Massachusetts' first governor, John Winthrop, Hutchinson is portrayed here as a feminist and a fighter for religious freedom, who eventually was banished to Rhode Island. As LaPlante paints a fascinating portrait of this complex mother of 15 and delineates her heresy by clarifying the distinction between her beliefs and those of her Puritan adjudicators, she deftly depicts the gritty world of colonial New England, too. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (March 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060562331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060562335
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eve LaPlante's latest books are MARMEE & LOUISA, a groundbreaking dual biography of Louisa May Alcott and her mother, and MY HEART IS BOUNDLESS, the first compilation of Abigail May Alcott's personal writings. Please visit with Eve at

A New Englander with degrees from Princeton and Harvard, Eve has published articles, essays, and three previous nonfiction books. SEIZED is a narrative portrait of a common brain disorder that can alter personality, illuminating the mind-body problem and the limits of free will. AMERICAN JEZEBEL tells the true story of Eve's ancestor the colonial heretic and founding mother Anne Hutchinson. Eve's second ancestor biography, SALEM WITCH JUDGE, about the 1692 judge who became a feminist and an abolitionist, won the 2008 Massachusetts Book Award for Nonfiction.

Shaun O'Connell, in his anthology, BOSTON: VOICES & VISIONS, which includes the preface to AMERICAN JEZEBEL, observes, "Just as Nathaniel Hawthorne dug into the dark history of his ancestry, which reached back both to the original Boston settlement of the 1630s and the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, so too did LaPlante trace family members who were rooted in the same eras.... Hawthorne took shame upon himself for the misdeeds of his Puritan ancestors, and LaPlante offers praise for her forebears who testified against Puritan repression. As her prefaces to these biographies, a kind of spiritual autobiography, show, Anne Hutchinson and Samuel Sewall were not the dark Puritans many imagined them to be. They remain living presences, even models of rectitude, into the twenty-first century."

A first cousin of Louisa May Alcott and a great-niece of Abigail May Alcott, Eve lives in New England with her husband and four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

116 of 125 people found the following review helpful By T. Washburn on July 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
I'm mystified by the rave reviews here. Hutchinson is indeed a fascinating figure, but LaPlante's oddly-arranged book obscures more than it illuminates. LaPlante presents Hutchinson as a proto-feminist rather than a zealous religious dissident. Although LaPlante acknowledges that Hutchinson exhibited as much moral certitude as her prosecutors -- she believed, for example, that she could personally identify those chosen for salvation by God -- most of the book either downplays the significance of theological dispute in favor of gender politics (suggesting, e.g., that John Winthrop was principally motivated by a desire to keep women in their place), or twists itself into knots trying to recast arch-Calvinist Antinomianism as a progressive movement. Incredibly, there is no serious discussion of theology until 50 pages into the book.

Gender is naturally central to this story. After all, its protagonist is a woman in seventeenth century Boston who brazenly challenged the city's Cambridge-educated male elite. But the reason for Hutchinson's banishment -- like that of the more influential and sophisticated Roger Williams a few years earlier -- was theological, and the faith of Hutchinson and her slippery mentor John Cotton (grandfather of Cotton Mather) was no more rational and no less fanatical than that of John Winthrop, whose conciliatory tendencies actually marked him as a rather moderate fellow by Puritan standards. Unlike Williams, whose radical separatism led him to become one of the first notable advocates of religious freedom, Hutchinson was primarily concerned not with political liberty but with denouncing those who she believed to be under a "covenant of works." This category included all the ministers in Massachusetts except for Cotton and her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As Founder of "The Friends of Anne Hutchinson" on Aquidneck Island (Newport,Portsmouth, Rhode Island)I read "American Jezebel"with the knowledge that most of what we know about Anne Hutchinson were first or second-hand accounts from the men she disturbed and quarreled with. What more could the author glean about this woman who dared to challenge Puritan Boston?
On Anne Hutchinson Day (April 27,an annual gathering at Founders' Brook Park in Portsmouth RI, the settlement she co-founded) Our "Friends" group asks -where is the history of the women who came here in 1638? Even their names seem erased. Our mission is to find, collect and record the lost history of women who left Puritan Boston and followed Anne Hutchinson to this Island as wives, sisters, in-laws or servants. Incredibly, 366 years later, many proud descendants are found here with stories to tell of Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer(a Quaker martyr)and the women Hutchinsonians. (14 names to date and adding) Many in our group have read everything we can on the life of Anne Hutchinson and her era. We believe this new book is an important addition to the few good, older books that are available on her.
Eve LaPlante's "American Jezebel" delivers an account that throws us into the action and weaves us carefully into Hutchinson's world in England, Boston-old world and new- Pocasset(Portsmouth RI) and New York with new detail. Finally an author has given us a meticulously-researched guided tour with maps to the places she lived. I know LaPlante did it well because some of us attempted to research the same areas, including her birthplace in Alford, Lincolnshire England. LaPlante did it right and thoroughly. She seemed to know the interest out there.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Gretchen Laskas on March 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
AMERICAN JEZEBEL is an excellent work, giving us a glimpse into the life of an extraordinary woman. In a world nearly four hundred years ago, that continues to echo into our own, the life of Anne Hutchinson has much to teach us still about women, religion, government and faith.
Highly readable and meticulously researched, I especially appreciated the maps and descriptions of the world Hutchinson lived in and also the details on how to find the footprints of her world in ours today.
A must for anyone interested in feminist scholarship, American history or religion.
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Format: Hardcover
In Puritan Massachusetts, there were fewer rights than today. One of the rights that was lacking was freedom of religious belief. The Puritans were trying instead to create the New Jerusalem where all would follow the same interpretation of Christianity. But under the surface, there were disagreements . . . especially between John Cotton and the other ministers. But Cotton usually tried to smooth over those differences when confronted with them, and then went back to preaching his true beliefs. Anne Hutchinson was a fond adherent of Cotton's ideas, but there was no such leeway for her teachings.

American Jezebel focuses on the meetings at which the Massachusetts General Court examined Anne Hutchinson and found her to deserve banishment from the colony, and the subsequent meetings in which her church examined whether she was to be excluded as well. The material is filled with dialogue and shrewd guesses about what the speakers may have been thinking. Ms. LaPlante also makes interesting comments about the background of these confrontations.

It's hard to imagine making theological arguments quite this dramatic, but much was at stake in the minds and hearts of the accusers and the accused. Yet the material works well.

Ms. LaPlante also does a remarkable job of describing the backgrounds of the key players, the religious disputes, and how the circumstances then compare to those today. There's even a fine section in the end about how you can visit many of the sites described in the book.

Ms. LaPlante brings a lot of love and care to this subject. Perhaps that is influenced by being a descendent of Anne Hutchinson, as are three U.S. Presidents (FDR and the two George Bushes).
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