Said to be one of the most important poets of early America, Anne Bradstreet was indeed the first woman American Poet. Her writing surely not only was a means of maintaining the love of literature and learning left behind in old England, and also a way of coping with the struggles of life in the New World; but her art was an outlet for the sometimes overwhelming myriad of emotions felt toward her role of wife and mother, and her unwavering love and devotion toward her family.
Bradstreet was born Anne Dudley in 1612 to Thomas and Dorothy Dudley. She had the privilege of education not through public schooling, but from instead her father, said to be a “devourer of books.” (Elliot, 29-36) Lucky to be a young woman during the Elizabethan era, education was encouraged for women; and, as her father served as steward to the Earl of Lincoln from 1619 to 1630, the use of the Earl’s extensive library. Anne was said to have enjoyed numerous works including Vergil, Plutarch, Livey, Homer, Hesiod and the Geneva version of the Bible. (Elliot 29-36)
Anne Dudley married Simon Bradstreet in 1628, thought the exact date is unknown. Simon worked with her father in the management of the Earl’s estate Sempringham. She and Simon made voyage to the New World in 1630 with her parents, on the Arabella with John Winthrop. The trip was difficult and took three months, in which many of the passengers died. When they arrived in the colonies those who had arrived before them were found in a state of severe illness and starvation. Thomas Dudley wrote to the Countess of Lincoln:
“We found the Colony in a sad and unexpected condition, above eighty of them being dead the winter before; and many of those alive weak and sick; all the corn and bread amongst them all hardly sufficient to feed them a fortnight.”
The colonists also suffered raids and attacks by the Indians. Indeed, as Simon moved the family frequently as to gain more property and political power, the family too became more subject to such attacks; it was commonplace then that Puritan families with wealth and political influence were often targets of Indian attacks and kidnappings for ransom.
Though she bore eight children in the span of nineteen years between 1633 and 1652, Bradstreet wrote poetry; her first published work was The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, published in 1650 in England. Her brother in law had taken her work with him upon a trip there, (possibly without her permission) (Woodleaf) and it sold well there. This work included four poems, each quite lengthy, known as quaternions; “The Four Elements,” “The Four Humors of Man,” “The Four Ages of Man,” and “The Four Seasons.” The second edition was printed in Boston under the title “Several Poems.”
Anne Bradstreet wisely wanted to keep much of her work private. Her good friend, Anne Hutchinson was not unlike Bradstreet; she was from a well-to-do family, she was also very religious, educated, intelligent and had many children. She conducted meetings for women, in her home and gave talks about her viewpoints of attending church; such was not necessary, according to Hutchinson, because the Holy Spirit dwelled in a justified person and so is not based on the good works necessary for admission to the church. This was considered heretical. Banished from the town she eventually died in New York in and Indian attack.
A Puritan woman, Bradstreet was a faithful wife and mother though she questioned her faith; Puritans believed in a harsh, judgemental god which Anne struggled with, (Woodlief) and she had conflicting ideas about gender roles in her religion. She relied, however, on her love for her family and her faith in her God to manage life in the New World, much unlike the life from which she came. She was troubled with ideas of death, as she was often ill and terrified of death in childbirth; she lived to be sixty years old. There is no marker for her grave; all that is left behind save a house in Ipswich, Massachusetts, is her poetry and her legacy.
Biography of Anne Bradstreet. Woodlief, Anne. Virginia Commonweath University.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 24: American Colonial Writers, 1606-1734. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Emory Elliott, Princeton University. The Gale Group, 1984. pp. 29-36. Wendy Martin, Queens University.