Anne Bradstreet

by Karen M. Kline

The name Anne Dudley Bradstreet is not recognized by many.  Who was she?  Why celebrate her life?  Read on, discover the mystery, the magic that was America’s first published poet  .  .  .

Anne Dudley was born in England in March, 1612.

Queen Elizabeth I died only nine years earlier and the Bard of Avon lived four more years until 1616.  Neither Good Queen Bess nor Shakespeare were as important in the shaping of our first poet as was Anne’s father, Thomas Dudley.  Her patient, kind mother Dorothy was deeply loved but nowhere near as influential in her daughter’s upbringing as was her father.

Beginning at the age of eight (1620) Anne enjoyed a life of privilege where learning was understood to be of value for a girl as well as a boy, a highly unusual concept at the time.  Dudley had become steward to Theophilis Fiennes~Clinton, the Earl of Lincoln, providing the protection of wealth for his five children with Dorothy Yorke Dudley.

Most young girls were never given a chance to delve into ancient history, science and writing as was Anne. She had access to the vast library at Sempringham along with the loving encouragement and support of her often strict, self-righteous father.

This union of place and opportunity were key for this future trailblazer, our first published poet of the New World. Anne delightfully devoured as many books as possible with the time allotted her as a young student in the home of the Earl.

The dowager Countess Elizabeth, mother of the Earl and eight younger children, made a powerfully lasting impression on young Anne.  She had never met such a strong woman.  Countess Elizabeth toiled right alongside twenty~year old Theophilus, her eldest, helping to keep both family and fortune, what was left of it, healthy.  Thomas Dudley proved an invaluable addition to their staff for this purpose.  Within two years of accepting the post of steward, Dudley had ensured the Earl and his family their return to a position of comfort and security, debt free for the first time since the death of his father years before.

Such leadership traits demonstrated by both the countess and her father left a lasting impression on Anne.  Many years later she recalled such memories as she took command of her own challenging brood and high rank in early American society.

Her strength and dedication as wife and mother demonstrate a quality upbringing resulting in a life of loyalty to the loved ones lighting her way.  Even more than her words, her response to constant daily struggle and elusive success draws me ever closer to Anne as a human being.

At the age of ten, life changed forever;  Anne met a young man named Simon Bradstreet.

In his post as steward, Dudley saw by 1622 that the work was too much for him to handle while still finding time for personal activities.  By hiring young Bradstreet as assistant, Dudley could then return to religious reading and study, composing his own writings and giving support to Anne, the apple of his eye.

The bond of Anne and her father was as strong as any in her life; her love and respect, unquestioned. These ties strengthened through the years as he offered her not only his attention but his unswerving support to write, something unheard of at the time.  In a Puritan family, women never read anything except the bible. Writing was not allowed . . . we can be thankful now for the freedom of expression encouraged by those of Sempringham Manor. With a far-sighted view on the education of young ladies, these aristocrats allowed little Anne to absorb and then practice poetic composition mid lush rolling hill and dale of merry old England as natural inspiration.

In 1628, Simon Bradstreet took Anne Dudley as his bride.  Anne did not transfer devotion from her father but merely expanded her love to include another fine man of integrity and ability.  In many ways, Anne saw the traits of her father in her “Dear and Loving Husband” and her joy was complete.  All was right with her world . . . for a short time.

The decision to leave England came mid unending religious strife.  Many Puritans lost their fortune; others lost the ultimate, their life.

June, 1630 the hearty band of travelers prepared to disembark from the Arbella in Salem Harbour after a harrowing nine-week voyage from Southampton.  Governour John Winthrop led the Puritan company to begin the Great Migration. Thomas Dudley was his Deputy Governor.  The New World seemed a haven, no matter how foreign, how unfriendly, for those fleeing persecution to salvage both body and belief.

On June 14, 1630, eighteen year old Anne Dudley Bradstreet first stepped upon American soil, never again to see her beloved England.  She became, reluctantly, a founding mother of our fledgling country and both could be considered continuing works in progress.

The initial Salem landing provided bitter disappointment. Under the command of a near~starving John Endecott, the colonists had suffered greatly in an inhospitable “New” England.  Winter cold unknown back home was too difficult for most to endure here.  Death was a constant companion of the Salem settlers.  Endecott himself was weakened and unable to offer much in the way of succor and safe haven, only squalor and illness were observed wherever the immigrants set their gaze.

The message, loud and clear, Cape Ann was not the place to settle.  Most of the party moved on, south to Charlestown.

Thus began the amazing New World adventure of Anne Dudley Bradstreet and family.  Led by John Winthrop, the hearty band accomplished much in very short order, moving on from Charlestown that same summer to found Boston, “the city on the hill”.

Next they traveled across the Charles River, named for England’s king, to found Cambridge, initially called “New Towne”.  America’s first college, Harvard, has a “Dudley Gate” in honor of the family.  You can read Anne’s words inscribed there.  In Cambridge, the first Bradstreet child, Samuel, was born in 1632.  Over the next 15 years, seven more were added to her brood, “eight chicks hatched in one nest, . . .”

In all, the Dudley/Bradstreet contributions to this country are inestimable. Careful study of the two families offer us a better understanding of worthwhile attributes, valued to this day, such as an abiding love of God and family plus service to community.

The value of Anne’s words and work comes not only from the ever~lengthening strands of history she revealed but also from the constant universal truth of her life, her veracity.

Taking on the duties of governour of Massachusetts Bay Colony not once but four times, Thomas Dudley offered his expertise, integrity and creativity during crucial early years as our country struggled with the formulation of laws, trade, religious tolerance and freedom. His son-in-law Simon continued the process as he also became governour in the last decade of his life (1690s), long after dear Anne’s death in 1672.

These men and women forged a foundation built upon belief and law brought from “Old” England as they were also constantly formulating new laws allowing them and their progeny to first survive and then thrive in this harsh yet rich land, this New World.

In the late 1630s, the Bradstreet family moved back to the north shore of Massachusetts to Ipswich.  This was a great delight for Anne, able to live with residents having very large libraries and a shared love of the written word.  Even there, she still had to ignore remarks from those (mostly female) jealous of her devotion to poetry;  “I am obnoxious to each carping tongue  Who says my hand a needle better fits . . . ”

The final Bradstreet move came in the early 1640s when Simon decided to head west from Ipswich to build a mill upon the banks of the mighty Merrimack.  Along with a few other families including the Barkers, who established a farm (still family~owned/operated since 1642)) not far from the river, Simon convinced Anne of his idea to relocate to what was then Andover Parish.

Anne packed up for the sixth and last time.  Simon must have promised great gifts to convince her to forsake the civility of Ipswich to become a founding mother, both figuratively and literally,  once again, as she was pregnant with their seventh child. Dudley was born here in Andover with John, her eighth child and fourth son appearing a few years later.

She lived the last half of her life in Andover Parish and historians believe that after her death on September 16, 1672, she was laid to rest in the Old Burying Ground, established in 1660 on what is now Academy Road.

On April 7, 1855 the word “NORTH” was added to “Andover” as it was split into two towns.

The Old Center of North Andover is the “Original” Andover of Anne, maybe the foremost founding mother of America.  For me, that is her position and will be forever more.

Consider this your invitation to come .  .  .

Walk the land Anne walked,
View nature as Anne viewed it .  .  .
Come join us, here
In the Valley of the Poets
Discover the mystery, the magic of Anne
Listen .  .  . just listen .  .  . for Mistress Bradstreet

To My Dear Children

This book by any yet unread
I leave for you when I am dead
That being gone, here you may find
What was your living mother’s mind.
Make use of what I leave in love
And God shall bless you from above

“Mistress Bradstreet” by Charlotte Gordon (2005) and “Anne Bradstreet: Selections from Her Work” edited by Nancy V. Weare (1998) were sources for this essay (c) 2008

Karen M. Kline of North Andover, MA

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