Why I read American Jezebel
American Jezebel is the story of Anne Hutchinson, one of the first groups of immigrants from England to Boston in the 1600’s. She was notorious for forming her own group of followers within the larger community and eventually getting herself, and her family, kicked out of Boston…they moved to Rhode Island, which was a colony formed, at least in part, for the Puritan dissidents.
I’ve always thought that Hutchinson was a pretty interesting figure because of what she accomplished, which is the very thing most of us admire: stirring up trouble, especially over religious beliefs. But I didn’t know a whole lot about her.
Ok, if you don’t like the way I put that, try this: she stood up for what she believed in, even at great personal cost. And what she believed is that the Puritan fathers had strayed too far from Biblical teachings, in order to keep control of the colony.
I’m particularly interested in Hutchinson because my mother’s family can be traced back to Massachusetts almost as far as Hutchinson’s family. I’m almost certain I had ancestors in Boston or nearby in Massachusetts at the time that Hutchinson lived, so it’s fun to wonder what they were doing there. Could one or more of them have been her followers?
She emigrated in 1630, and I have ancestors who were born in Massachusetts in the 1640’s.
Why you should read American Jezebel
You should read this book if you fit one or more of the following categories:
1. You believe that religious freedom as defined by the U.S. Constitution came from the Puritans. The Puritans actually believed the opposite of the authors of the Constitution, which was written over 100 years later, and the Puritans, who settled Boston, are actually less restrictive than the Separatists, who are the group that we call the “Pilgrims” and settled in present day Plymouth, Massachusetts.
2. You think that the old way is the best way. I actually have recently heard people say that the Founding Fathers would be appalled at what is going on in the United States right now, with the civil unrest we’ve had in the past few weeks between COVID 19 and the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations. Anyone who says that clearly has NO CONCEPT of American history. We have been troublemakers from the beginning, settled by English fore parents who were religious fanatics (to the North) and disgruntled fortune seekers of all kinds to the South. I really have no idea what the Spanish were doing in South America and also St. Augustine, Florida, but judging by the rumors I’ve heard, nothing good. And in the end, we basically had demonstrations (The Boston Tea Party) and riots until we started a war with a major power…and somehow both won it and managed to maintain our freedom. Lucky for us, the enemy of England is almost always the friend of France, but still.
3. You think there are things that women shouldn’t do, whether you are a man or a woman. Nope. I mean, you will probably enjoy the part where Hutchinson gets kicked out of Boston. You also might get some helpful notes on how to keep women down by accusing them of witchcraft whenever they got a little uppity, but for the best information on that, you should really read up on the Salem witch trials.
4. You want to know how to use stupid, gender-biased laws against the people who wrote them. Hutchinson was apparently brilliant at this.
5. You think there is only one interpretation of the Bible that doesn’t change. It’s clear that the Puritans knew their Bible and regularly debated the meaning of passages.
6. You don’t think reading and literacy are important, or you don’t realize how important they are.
The Puritan faith, like many other branches of Christian Protestantism, are directly related to increased literacy and the availability of the Bible in English.
It became much harder for the church hierarchy to keep control of the people when the people no longer had to rely on the clergy’s reading of the Scripture.
Why you May Not Want to Read American Jezebel.
There are plenty of good reasons to read this book, but in fairness, it’s not the easiest book I’ve ever read. A considerable number of pages are devoted to detailed quoting from the transcript of Hutchinson’s trial, which hung on minute theological and Biblical arguments that necessitate a lot of explanation.
I was raised Baptist, which meant a lot of Biblical instruction. Even though I have a basic understanding of the arguments that were raised in the trial, I admittedly got lost and a little bored in sections. I think Eve LaPlante, who is a descendent of Hutchinson’s, does right to explicate the arguments so clearly. If nothing else, she must have done so as a tribute since she points out that one explanation for Hutchinson speaking the way she did was because she couldn’t resist the chance to get her ideas recorded, published, and preserved. It was a rare chance for anyone at the time, most especially a woman. But by continuing to speak when she had come as close as she possibly could have, considering that she wasn’t getting a fair trial to begin with, she basically proved herself guilty by teaching the men, in open court.
The back story, which is really what interested me, is told in chapters interspersed with the court case. It really is necessary to break up the story of the court case, but the whole thing is a bit confusing and does move slowly.
Regardless, Anne Hutchinson is a woman worth knowing about.
Although “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has little to do with Anne Hutchinson, this song runs through my head whenever I think about her.
Who is Eve LaPlante?
Eve LaPlante is a nonfiction writer from New England who is descended from Puritans, including Anne Hutchinson. She is also a multiple great niece of Abba Alcott, the mother of Louisa May Alcott, most famously the author of Little Women, and she is a first cousin four times removed (that means 4 generations) of Louisa Alcott.
For perspective on this, if you care, your first cousin’s children are your first cousins once removed. Your children and your first cousin’s children are second cousins to each other. I grew up with my second and removed cousins, so I figured it out way before the Internet. We used to go stay with my dad’s first cousin once removed, who is my second cousin, and I played with her daughter, who is my second cousin once removed. Her great grandmother and my grandmother were sisters, even though we are the same age. That’s North Carolina, y’all. And apparently Massachusetts.
Among her other nonfiction writings, she has written a dual biography of the Alcotts and of one of the judges at the Salem witch trials.
Read more from The Lois Level on Louisa May Alcott here:
There’s a lot more to Louisa May Alcott than Greta Gerwig’s 2019 “Little Women”
What’s a Jezebel?
A Jezebel is not a what, it’s a who. Specifically, a she.
The historical Jezebel was an ancient Israeli queen who introduced official Baal worship to her nation, which was bad since the ancient Israelis were supposed to worship God, or Yahweh.
If you paid attention in Sunday School at all, you should know that whenever the ancient Israelis turned from God, trouble followed.
Even in ancient times, the Israelites were not given an empty land by God. There were actually already people and nations there, and the Israelites had to fight those people to get their land.
Sound familiar? If not, Google “Palestine”.
Although the Israelites managed to conquer the other people, at least for a time, they never seemed to be able to ignore those people, so they got involved with their way of living, which included their religions.
Later, these people converted to Islam, which follows the same God as the Israelites, but in ancient times, prior to the Mohammad’s divine inspiration in the 700’s A.D., these people worshipped multiple gods.
Over the millennia, “Jezebel” has become synonymous with “woman troublemaker”.
Somehow, ever since Eve, men have used woman as scapegoats whenever they get into trouble, especially with God.
You’d think they’d just learn to stay away from us, if they are so scared and we are so evil, but somehow, they just can’t.
I wonder why?
The term “jezebel” is often used to describe a women who uses her sexuality to achieve her aims.
It kills me how women are supposed to look pretty and sometimes a bit sexy, but if they get too good at it, they are denigrated.
I’ll admit, I kind of get Jezebel mixed up myself by confusing her with Salome, who famously used her sexuality and the “Dance of the Seven Veils” to literally win the head of John the Baptist on a platter…in case you ever wondered where that idiom originated…but clearly, Salome was in the New Testament.
As shown in the painting above, Jezebel was supposed to have shown her vanity by making sure she was dressed well and made up nicely for her execution, but scholars say that has more to do with emphasizing her role as a part of the ruling family and her status than vanity. Kind of the same thing, I think, as politicians wearing certain colors and those little flag pins.
More Famous Books about the Puritans in Massachusetts
Nathaniel Hawthorne lived right next door to the Alcott family in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1800’s. He wrote two famous books about the Puritans, The House of the Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter.
Keep in mind that he was also writing about his ancestors, so this is historical fiction. The Puritans themselves would have nothing to do with fiction, if it really had existed yet (which it did not, or anyway the novel didn’t). Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing is influenced by Romanticism, the same literary and artistic movement that produced poets like Shelley and Wordsworth in England.
The Scarlet Letter is about hypocrisy in Puritan Massachusetts.
The House of the Seven Gables is set in Salem, where the famous witch trials were held. It is a Gothic novel focusing on the descendants of those involved in the trial.
Although Hutchinson was not directly accused of being a witch, possibly because of her social status and connections, LaPlante draws parallels between her experiences and those of women accused of witchcraft.
Any woman who lived alone successfully, especially if she had some education (which was often had to do with knowledge of medicinal herbs) was in danger of being accused of witchcraft.
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a play written in the mid 20th century. It is about the Salem witch trials but also works as a allegory about the “Red Scare” trials that happened in response to a fear of Communism.
And then there is the fun read…Stephen King has a book set in Salem as well.
Books by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott are in the public domain. You should be able to find free or low cost versions, but always double check the formatting, especially in digital editions, before purchase/downloading.
You Tell Us
Do we really want to be like the Puritans?