First American Poet
Anne Bradstreet was the first American poet, and her first collection of poems was the first book written by a woman to be published in the United States. Her work serves as a testament to the struggles of a Puritan wife against the hardships of New England colonial life.
Image: Anne Bradstreet Stained Glass Window
St. Botolph’s Church in Boston, England
Anne Dudley was born in Northampton, England, in the year 1612, daughter of Thomas Dudley, an earl’s estate manager. Anne was unusually well educated for her time – tutored in history, several languages, and literature.
At the age of 16, she was married to Simon Bradstreet, a 25 year old assistant in the Massachusetts Bay Company. Simon was the son of a Puritan minister and had been in the care of the Dudleys since his father’s death.
Anne and her family emigrated to America in 1630 on the Arbella, one of the first ships to bring Puritans to New England. The three-month journey was difficult, and many perished due to the poor living conditions and scurvy brought on by malnutrition.
Their trials and tribulations did not end upon their arrival, and many of those who had survived the journey died shortly thereafter or elected to returned to England.
Anne’s father, Thomas Dudley, was Deputy-Governor of the Boston settlement. His friend John Winthrop was Governor, and Anne’s husband was Chief-Administrator.
The colonists’ fight for survival was a long and arduous one. The climate, lack of food, and primitive living arrangements made it very difficult for Anne to adapt. Her belief that God had not abandoned them helped her survive the hardships.
Anne fought an almost constant battle with illness, but her faith in God must have pulled her through again. Despite her poor health, she gave birth to eight children, and made a loving home for her family. Simon eventually prospered in the new land.
The Bradstreets moved frequently in the Massachusetts colony, first to Cambridge, then to Ipswich, and then to Andover, which became their permanent home. Simon’s political duties involved traveling to other colonies – he eventually became governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Anne spent her lonely days and nights reading her father’s collection of books and educating her children. In the process, she learned a great deal about religion, science, history, the arts and medicine.
She was particularly fond of poetry, and she began to write verse, but kept her work private. The Puritans frowned upon women who pursued intellectual enlightenment. She wrote for herself, her family, and a close circle of educated friends, never intending to publish her work.
Without her knowledge, Anne’s brother-in-law, John Woodbridge, secretly copied her work and later took it to England to have it published. Woodbridge even admitted to it in the preface of her first collection, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts, which was published in 1650. The book did fairly well in England, and was the last of her poetry to be published during her lifetime.
Anne’s poetry was based on her life experience, and her love for her husband and family. One of the most interesting aspects of her work is the standpoint from which she wrote – that the search for knowledge was against God’s will and women were relegated to traditional roles. She clearly valued knowledge and intellect, and could well be considered an early feminist.
Her health began to fail, and she became ill with tuberculosis. Shortly thereafter, she lost her daughter Dorothy to illness. Anne Dudley Bradstreet lost her long and difficult battle with illness, and she passed away on September 16, 1672, in Andover, Massachusetts, at the age 60.