Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America’s First Poet

For many, Anne Bradstreet’s name is familiar from the early pages of anthologies of American poetry or from John Berryman’s famous tribute to her. But few know that she was the first published poet—male or female—to emerge from the wilderness of the New World, or that her slim volume of verse was a runaway bestseller. Now, in this illuminating biography, Charlotte Gordon reveals Anne Bradstreet to be an electrifying personality at the center of one of the most fascinating periods in our country’s history.

Transplanted from England to the New World in 1630, eighteen-year-old Anne was among the first waves of settlers on the unwelcoming shores of what would one day be Massachusetts. Arriving just a decade after the Pilgrims, Anne quickly had to transform herself from educated gentlewoman to frontier wife and mother. Of course, she was not alone: with her came her new husband, Simon Bradstreet, her imperious father, Thomas Dudley, and a powerful clutch of Protestant dissenters whose descendants would become our founding fathers.

Though a pious and prominent member of her Puritan community, Anne was also a rebel of sorts, flouting the image of seventeenth-century women as too intellectually weak to tackle the male realms of law, science, and what was considered most challenging of all: poetry. But even as she lived through extraordinary hardships—near-starvation, illness, isolation, and the deaths of friends and loved ones by disease and Indian massacres—she was determined to write verse.

In a fresh, spare style, Anne not only recorded her own experience, but also commented on the political and religious upheavals of her day, casting light on the hypocrisy of Old England and the promise of the New. Bradstreet’s story, like her poetry, is full of drama and surprises, among them a passionate marriage, intellectual ferment, religious schisms, and the constant threat of violence.

This is the gripping story of a woman and poet of great feeling struggling to find a language to describe the country in which she finds herself. It also offers a rich and complex portrait of early America, the Puritans, and the trials and values whose legacy continues to shape our country to the present day.