literary legacies: progressing back into history with anne bradstreet

by Karen M. Kline | September 2016

Harvest your heritage!  Can that be done here in the Valley of the Poets?

The name Anne Dudley Bradstreet is not recognized by enough Americans.  Who was she?  Why celebrate her life?  Read on, discover the mystery, the magic that was the first female English - language poet published from the New World…

From Northampton in 1612 to North Andover in 1672, it was a circuitous path for Anne. Born in Northampton, England, she became the first published poet from America when her brother-in-law, Rev. John Woodbridge, took her poetry back to London. The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America became a best-seller in England in 1650.

Where did she find the talent and bravery to write as a 17th Century woman?

Queen Elizabeth I died only nine years before her birth and the Bard of Avon lived until 1616.  Anne was four years old.  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 offered a chance to delve into ancient history, science and language 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.

Now, let's go to the Mass Bay Colony of 1630.  Gov. John Endecott led a group nearly decimated by Illness and starvation.   When the Arbella dropped anchor in Salem Harbour June 14, 1630, there was little celebration.  The immigrants discovered it was a dark place so they moved on, south to Charlestown.

Charlestown had its own drawbacks so the Dudleys and Bradstreets moved across the Mystic River (Wampanoag Muhs-uhtuq meaning "Big River") to the North End with other Puritans, founding Boston, "a city upon the hill" on September 17, 1630. 

Simon, Anne and her expanding family tarried only briefly.  Thomas Dudley decided by December to cross the Charles River to found Cambridge (Newtowne) with Anne and Simon following along to support her father.  It was there that Anne finally became a mother with son Samuel, her first of eight, born in 1632.

About three years later, another change of residence for the growing Bradstreet family, heading back up north to Ipswich.  

I believe Ipswich, where nearly every household had a library to get lost in, was possibly her favorite place of all.  With four more children and much poetry written there, this brave woman followed her beloved husband Simon for the sixth and final time, heading west in 1645.

To entice her inland, Simon promised a grand Andover home, which is exactly what he provided his beloved wife.

Thus, Anne Dudley Bradstreet became a founding mother of not one or even two, but eventually three towns, including Andover Parish, known as North Andover since 1855.

During these years of adventure, Mistress Bradstreet stayed true to her personal passion - poetry.  No matter where travel took the family or how busy a life she led as Puritan child of God, daughter, wife, mother, and hostess for her esteemed husband, poetry may be considered her ninth child, never far away.  

This poem demonstrates her deep devotion to the poetic word and to children:

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 liveing mother’s mind. 
Make use of what I leave in Love.
And God shall blesse you from above.

Plan to visit the Valley of the Poets:  North Andover, founded by the Bradstreets and others, Haverhill with native son John Greenleaf Whittier, Andover has the Harriet Beecher Stowe House and her family grave in the Phillips Academy cemetery and finally, Lawrence, the city that proudly educated Robert Frost. 

Is Anne buried there?  Another mystery, no one knows where she is buried.  

Come to Anne's Land, a special place which she learned to love.  Stroll the Old Burying Ground across the road from where her home was thought to stand "Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666."  

Allow yourself to be inspired as you harvest your heritage!   

For more information about Mistress Bradstreet, go to

Karen M. Kline, mother, volunteer and poet, considers herself a disruptor as executive director of American Community Think Tank, which she founded in 2000 to encourage the creative imagination of children. ACTT programs have been presented in six states, two Canadian cities and Lahore, Pakistan. ACTT provides non-judgmental, low-cost art, enterprise, literature, media, music, and nature events by partnering with schools and organizations. As a board member of the Robert Frost Foundation of Lawrence, Kline has helped conduct yearly festivals, hoots, school poetry bees and workshops for adults and children. She has presented at several festivals including the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, as well as at Boston Children's Museum. In 2012, to celebrate the 400th birthday of Anne Dudley Bradstreet, Kline planned a program per month to honor Anne, who was also a disruptor.