America’s First Muse
Anne Bradstreet (1612 - 1672) - Part 1
by Dmitriy Yakubov
Few people remember this now, but the first page in American poetry was written by a woman.
Anne Dudley was born in 1612 in Northampton, England, to Dorothy York and Thomas Dudley, steward of the Earl of Lincoln. Anne was a well-educated woman for her time and studied literature, history and languages. Because of her family’s position, she grew up surrounded by culture and intelligence. When she was 16, she married Simon Bradstreet, and took on the name Anne Bradstreet.
Her childhood and adolescence coincided with religious and political unrest in England. The Puritans had become a significant political force. This led to a serious split within the country, as Puritans did not accept the orders of the Anglican Church, which was striving for total domination. At some point, the Puritans won a majority in parliament and, seeking to act independently, questioned the authority of King Charles I. This deepened the split and increased political tensions. The king, as head of the Church of England, opposed parliament, doubting its necessity.
In 1626, King Charles I temporarily dissolved parliament. The same thing happened the following year. In March 1629, the king dissolved parliament permanently and introduced a rule allowing the monarch to govern the country without convening parliament. Many Puritans lost hope for a reform which would live up to their beliefs. So, among the Puritans, the idea arose of mass emigration to a new continent—where they planned to create a society based on their faith.
Anne and Simon, along with Anne’s parents, emigrated to America aboard the Arabella. The voyage lasted two months and one week. After leaving England on April 8, they reached the shores of America on June 12, 1630.
They arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, where the Puritans who had arrived several years earlier had already settled.
The Arabella was the flagship of a group of eleven ships known as the Winthrop Fleet, which brought as many as a thousand people to the American colonies during the summer of 1630, including women and children. This group was part of a larger emigration that took place from the 1620s to the 1640s.
This period of great emigration ended after the political landscape changed. During the English Civil War, Charles I surrendered and was handed over to parliament. After a brief escape, he was imprisoned, tried for treason, then executed January 30, 1649 in London.
(part 2 of Anne Bradstreet will be in the next issue)