Anne Bradstreet (circa 1612 – September 16, 1672) was the first colonial female poet to be published in the New World. She was both the daughter and the wife of Massachusetts Bay Colony Governors. As an accomplished poet she laid the groundwork for other female writers to emerge in an era when women generally tended to family and domestic matters. Through her poetry she eloquently expressed the concerns of a Puritan wife and mother, giving significant historical insight and perspective on the lives of the early settlers to America. In modern times, she is still regarded as one of the most important American woman poets.
Bradstreet was born Anne Dudley in Northhampton England. She was the daughter of Puritan leader Thomas Dudley and Dorothy Dudley. Her father was a steward to the Earl of Lincoln and as such the family lived the life of privileged gentry. Bradstreet was tutored by her father but was largely self-educated through her reading of the classics, Shakespeare, and the Bible. She was an admirer of French poet Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas who was popular with seventeenth century readers. His epic poem, La Sepmaine; ou, Creation du monde (1578), was said to have influenced John Milton's own classic epic, Paradise Lost.
At the age of sixteen, young even by the standards of the day, she married Simon Bradstreet. Both Anne's father and husband were Puritan nonconformists at a time when religious intolerance was on the rise in England, under Charles I. They decided to set sail for the American colonies aboard the Arbella, under the leadership of John Winthrop, during the Great Migration of 1630. Later both her husband and father were to become Governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Leaving the comfort and security of England could not have been easy for Bradstreet. After a difficult journey the family was shocked by the circumstances of early settlers, who were suffering from starvation, and were subjected to the constant threat of both disease and Native American attack. She said of her arrival in America, "my heart rose in protest against the new world and new manners," but she admitted that she "faithfully submitted." Reconciling her faith with the tenuous and uncertain life of a colonist was to be a major theme in her work.
On a visit back to England, in 1647, Bradstreet's brother-in-law, Rev. John Woodbridge, published a manuscript of her poetry without her consent or knowledge. The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America was well received on both continents and later, Bradstreet would re-work some of the poems, even adding a tribute to her father. It is interesting to note that in those times introductions to Bradstreet's poetry included the caveat that she had not neglected her duties as wife, or mother, to write her poetry. In his introduction, Woodbridge says, "these Poems are the fruit but of some few houres, curtailed from her sleep." Another person to comment favorably on her work was the politically influential Puritan minister and author, Cotton Mather, who had the dubious distinction in colonial times of being a persecutor of witches during the Salem Witch Trials.
Bradstreet was highly educated for the time, and her early poetry, although considered formal and somewhat stilted by contemporary critics, displayed her wide grasp of politics, history, medicine, and theology. The book, The Tenth Muse includes an elegy to Elizabeth I in which Bradstreet supports the political and leadership power of women. She drew on the work of Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World, (1614) for her poetic version of the rise and fall of civilizations in The Four Monarchyes.
Her own personal library of books was said to have numbered over 800, many of which were destroyed, along with some of her poetry, when her home burned down on July 10, 1666. This event itself inspired a poem entitled, "Upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666," wherein Bradstreet strives to reconcile her faith in an all-powerful God with the tragedy that has befallen her.
Later poems were less formal and more enduring in their popularity, as Bradstreet wrote about the natural surroundings of New England and her family. Among these poems are elegies for her parents, her two grandchildren, and poems written to her husband. These later poems express the tension she feels between her worldly attachments and her faith in eternal life. "Before the Birth of One of Her Children" talks about a fear many women in Puritan times had of dying in childbirth. In the poem Bradstreet beseeches her husband to love and care for her children if she should die. In some ways the poem does presage the future for her. Although, she did not die in childbirth, she did pass away twenty years before her husband, who re-married Ann Gardner, the widow of Captain Joseph Gardner of Salem.
Bradstreet died in 1672, in Andover, Massachusetts. While the precise location of her grave is uncertain, she may have been buried next to her husband in "the Old Burying Point" in Salem, Massachusetts, or in "the Old Burying Ground" on Academy Road in North Andover, Massachusetts.
In 1678, after her death, her husband compiled many of her self-revised poems in the book entitled Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning. This book carries the distinction of being the first book written by a woman to be published in America. It contains the ever popular and romantic poem, based on the rhyme scheme of an Elizabethan sonnet: To My Dear and Loving Husband.
She won critical acceptance in the twentieth century as a writer of enduring verse, particularly for her sequence of religious poems, Contemplations, which was written for her family and not published until the mid-nineteenth century. Many critics consider Contemplations her finest work.
In 1867 John H. Ellis published the complete works of Anne Bradstreet, which included materials from both editions of The Tenth Muse as well as poems that had been in the possession of her son, Simon Bradstreet.
The marriage of Simon and Anne Bradstreet resulted in eight children and a long list of descendants who became illustrious Americans that were dedicated to public service, including: Herbert Hoover, the nation's 31st president, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Supreme Court Justice (1902-1932), William Ellery, a signer of the Declaration of Independence representing Rhode Island, Richard Henry Dana, an abolitionist and a founder of the Anti-Slavery Free party in 1848. Two of their descendants held public office at the beginning of the twenty-first century: Senator John Kerry, the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts (as the Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, he was defeated in the 2004 presidential election by the Republican incumbent, President George W. Bush) and David Souter, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Descendants of Simon Bradstreet and Anne, daughter of Thomas Dudley:
All links retrieved March 23, 2016.
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