'Ballad of Anne Hutchinson' performed in Portsmouth


PORTSMOUTH — When Jacob Haller first read about the trial of Anne Hutchinson in Sara Vowell's book, "The Word Shipmates," it struck him as material for a classic folk song.

"It reminded me of 'The Ballad of John Henry,'" the Providence-based singer-songwriter said Sunday at Founders' Brook Park, where about 300 people celebrated the life of the Puritan preacher and midwife.

"It's a heroic struggle between this single person and an institution. The person almost wins, but doesn't," he said.

Such a song would also distinguish itself from a typical folk song, which usually focuses on a male protagonist, Mr. Haller said.

"There aren't a lot of those songs about women, I feel, and that was kind of exciting. I thought, 'Someone should really write a song about this.' Then a year later, it occurred to me that I could write the song."

So he did, penning the up-tempo country shuffle that borrows the melody of "John Henry."

Later he learned about The Friends of Anne Hutchinson, and told them he'd be happy to play the song whenever they hosted a special event. The Friends took him up on the offer and invited him to sing it Sunday's event, which paid tribute to the Puritan preacher and midwife. The event was co-hosted by the Portsmouth 375th Committee.

The song is included on Mr. Haller's album, "Circumstantial Evidence," or you can download it from iTunes or via his website, www.jwgh.org.

On his website Mr. Haller points out that his brother-in-law, an American historian, may disagree with his interpretation of Anne Hutchinson's trial. Here are the lyrics, so you can judge for yourself.

"The Ballad of Anne Hutchinson"

Anne Hutchinson was a mighty woman.

She was the daughter of Francis Marbury.

She was put on trial in 1637

for preaching in the Boston colony, lord, lord.

For preaching in that Boston colony.

The governor said to Anne Hutchinson

"You've broken the Biblical law.

A woman's place is honoring her husband,

not speaking out in church at all."

"Well let me read to you from the Bible,"

Anne said to that governor,

"It says that my duty, as an older woman,

is to teach to those that are younger."

Anne said, "What law have I broken?

Just tell me, and I'll see if it's true."

The governor shouted, "Now hold on, sister,

'Cause we're the judges here, not you."

They argued for days into evenings.

The governor was losing his cool.

Despite all his learning, this self-taught midwife

was making him look like a fool.

Now Anne said, "You know that I'm not worried,

'Cause God said you can't hurt me."

The judge laughed out loud and the court retired

To convict her of heresy.

Some might say the moral of the story

is the dangers of too much pride.

I say it shows it's hard to break that glass ceiling,

even with God on your side.

Anne Hutchinson was a mighty woman.

She was the daughter of Francis Marbury.

She was put on trial in 1637

for preaching in the Boston colony.

Here's a video of Mr. Haller performing the song during the Gathering of Fiddlers and Fishermen at Common Fence Music in Portsmouth in January 2012.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

2016 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Prudence Island · Riverside · Rumford · Seekonk · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc., email mrego@eastbaynewspapers.com.