Anne Bradstreet came to America as a teenager, one of the original settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The daughter of Thomas Dudley, who was second in rank only to Governor John Winthrop, and the wife of Simon Bradstreet, secretary to the colony, she was highly placed in the new Puritan community. However, conditions near Boston were such that she did not feel privileged. In fact, in a retrospective letter she left her children shortly before she died, she stated that she was revolted by the sight of the New World. It fell far short of the life she had grown up enjoying in England. Yet she also told her children in the same letter that she submitted to the life to which God had called her.
In many ways, Bradstreet was remarkably successful in trying circumstances. She was often sickly, worried early in her marriage because she seemed unable to have children, and lived in an unforgiving environment in which mortality rates, especially for women and children, were high. Nevertheless, she persevered and had eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood and all but one of whom outlived their mother. This was a considerable accomplishment for the time and place in which she lived. Besides family good fortune, she was also unusually successful in her poetic career. Few in the colonies of New England had time to compose poetry, especially women with eight children. In fact, few women at all wrote and published poetry in the seventeenth century. Yet Bradstreet so prevailed in her art that she is credited with the first published book of poetry from the New World: The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in New England: Or, Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight (1650).
Bradstreet’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in later life. While she had had success in childbearing, her daughter-in-law Mercy, wife of first son Samuel, lost four children in rapid succession and then died giving birth. In the midst of...
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