Anne Bradstreet Biography
First American poet
Anne Dudley Bradstreet (1612 – 1672) was the first writer to be published in England’s North American colonies. Her book, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, was also published in London in 1650, making Anne the first female poet ever published in both England and the New World. She is the first Puritan writer in American Literature and notable for her large body of poetry and personal writings.
Early Life and Marriage
As the daughter of Thomas Dudley, a steward of the Earl of Lincoln, and Dorothy Yorke Dudley, a wealthy Puritan family from Northampton, England, Bradstreet was a well-educated woman for her time, being tutored in history, several languages and literature. Both Anne’s father and husband would later serve as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
At 16, she became the wife of Simon Bradstreet, a public official in Massachusetts. Anne and Simon, along with Anne’s parents, emigrated to America as part of the Winthrop Fleet, a major migration of Puritans that took place in 1630. In June of that year they landed at Salem, whence they removed at once to Charlestown In 1632 Anne had a ‘fit of sickness,’ and in 1634 the party settled at Ipswich, Massachusetts. Simon Bradstreet formed a plantation at Merrimac in 1638, the year in which Anne wrote her ‘Elogie on Sir Philip Sidney.’
Motherhood and Poetic Success
At Ipswich, on Monday, 28 Sept. 1640, she at last became a mother. She would go on to have eight children, of whom she would eventually write, 23 June 1659 (Poems, p. 245):
I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,
Four cocks there were and hens the rest.
In 1641 Anne Bradstreet wrote a poem in honour of Du Bartas, and she shortly made a collection of her poems. The chief of them was entitled ‘The Four Elements;’ she dedicated the volume in verse to her father, under date 20 March 1642. These poems were distributed in manuscript, and gained her great celebrity. Cotton Mather spoke of her as ‘a crown to her father’ (Magnalia, bk. ii. p. 17), whilst Griswold calls her ‘the most celebrated poet of her time in America’ (Poets and Poetry of America, p. 92). The book was at last published, in London, 1650, under the title ‘The Tenth Muse,’ … ‘By a Gentlewoman in Those Parts (i.e. New England).’ In 1643, on 27 Dec., Dorothy Dudley, Anne Bradstreet’s mother, died (Poems, p. 220); in 1644 her father married again (having three more children by this marriage). In 1653 Anne’s father died. In 1661 she had a further long and serious illness, and her husband, then secretary to the colony, had to proceed to England on state business. Anne wrote ‘Poetical Epistles’ to him. By 3 Sept. 1662 he had returned.
Decline, Death and Legacy
Anne Bradstreet wrote poems in 1665 and 1669 commemorating the deaths of three grandchildren; and on 31 Aug. 1669 Anne wrote her last poem, beginning
As weary pilgrim, now at rest.
After this Anne Bradstreet’s health failed entirely, and she died of consumption, at Andover, Massachusetts, 16 Sept. 1672, aged 60.
It is not known where Anne Bradstreet was buried. Her poems, says Cotton Mather, are a ‘monument for her memory beyond the stateliest marbles;’ and these ‘Poems’ were issued in a second edition, printed by John Foster, at Boston (America), in 1678. Anne Bradstreet also left a small manuscript book of ‘Meditations,’ designed for the use of her children. Extracts from this book appeared, with the title of ‘The Puritan Mother,’ in the American ‘Congregational Visitor,’ 1844; in Dr. Budington’s ‘History of the First Church in Charlestown,’ and in many American newspapers to which they were contributed by Mr. Dean Dudley (Works, Introd. p. x). In 1867 Mr. John Harvard Ellis edited Anne Bradstreet’s ‘Works,’ and there these ‘Meditations,’ together with all that Anne Bradstreet ever wrote, are given in their entirety.
Anne Bradstreet: a first-person narrative
Reenactor Susan Lenoe offers an interesting version of the Anne Bradstreet biography, sprinkled with excerpts from her poetry, in this 14-minute video.
Bradstreet wrote poetry in addition to her extensive duties as a wife and mother. Over the course of her life, she developed a uniquely personal style of poetry centered on her role as a mother, the sufferings of life, and her Puritan faith. Anne’s excellent education equipped her to write with authority about politics, history, medicine, and theology. Her personal library of books was said to have numbered over 9000, although many were destroyed when her home burned in 1666.
An overview of Anne Bradstreet’s life and work
Instructor Lance Eaton has provided a helpful 14-minute video biography.
Editor’s note: Parts of the above biography were adapted from the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, and are public domain.
You can enjoy Anne Bradstreet’s poetry, including the piece referenced above regarding her children, courtesy of EIL.