Bryan takes over the podium today in Writing New York, but I’ll be lecturing on Anne Hutchinson and Mary Rowlandson in the afternoon in my American Literature I class. That class presents a version of American literary history that begins in Puritan New England: last week we discussed William Bradford and John Winthrop; this week we begin with the Antinomian Crisis.
After she was banished in the wake of the Crisis, Hutchinson settled in Rhode Island, but after the death of her husband in 1642, she moved to Dutch territory, settling in Pelham Bay in what is now the Bronx. In a journal entry from September 1643, Winthrop relates the following:
The Indians near the Dutch, having killed 15 men, began to setup upon the English who dwelt under the Dutch. They came to Mrs. Hutchinson’s in the way of friendly neighborhood, as they had been accustomed and taking their opportunity, killed her and Mr. Collins, her son-in-law …, and all her family, and such [other] families as were at home; in all sixteen, and put their cattle into their houses and there burnt them. These people had cast off ordinances and churches, and now at last their open people, and for larger accomodation, had subjected themselves to the Dutch and dwelt scatteringly near a mile asunder.
In July 1646, Winthrop relates some more information about the fate of Hutchinson’s family:
A daughter of Mrs. Hutchinson was carried away by the Indians near the Dutch, when her mother and others were killed by them; and upon the peace concluded between the Dutch and the same Indians, she was returned to the Dutch governor, who restored her to her friends here. She was about 8 years old when she was taken, and continued with them about 4 years, and she had forgot her own language, and all her friends, and was loath to have come from the Indians.
Winthrop no doubt regarded Hutchinson’s fate as a sign of divine disapproval and a vindication of her banishment.
Several years ago at the MLA, I gave a paper called “A New Capital for American Literary History,” in which I asked what it would be like to set the beginnings of the story not in New England but in New Amsterdam. Trying to talk about the literary history of New Amsterdam is difficult since very few materials exist in translation, but it occurred to me at the time that Hutchinson’s story would allow Puritanism to enter into our larger story obliquely.
“In the early seventeenth century,`” write Kenneth T. Jackson and Davis S. Dunbar in their anthology Empire City, “when Puritan Boston was banishing Anne Hutchinson from the city because of doctrinal disagreements, the West India Company, fearing that bigotry might threaten trade and discourage immigration, was welcoming Lutherans, Quakers, Anabaptists, Catholics, and even Jews to Manhattan.”
Viewing Puritanism through the prism of the Antinomian Controversy and from the vantage point of as a safe haven from religious persecution has the effect of knocking it from its pedestal at the center of the U.S. literary tradition. Puritanism remains important but it ceases to be the point of origin for the American self.
I’m slated to teach American Literature I again next spring. It might be time to reframe the course. Rather than teaching The Puritan Origins of the American Self (the title of a classic account by Sacvan Bercovitch), I might instead teach the cosmopolitan origins of the American self, shifting the focus from Boston to New York.
I’ll be posting thoughts about what a revised Am Lit I syllabus might look like periodically as this term continues.