Anne's Famous Neighbors: the Musical Legacy of the Puritans Next Door

The Christmas and holiday season is the perfect time for being with family, and for remembrance, gratitude, and celebration. It is also the time to listen to both good and bad Christmas music. Some people are firm believers of the “no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving policy,” others, like myself, will start the Christmas music at 12:00 am November 1st as Halloween (a close second in best holidays) comes to a spooky end. Music provides a vehicle to the past, letting us see what society valued through the music they consumed, and Christmas music is no exception to that.


One of my favorite Christmas songs is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” This song always brings me peace and makes me feel at home. It soothes me back to the first time I watched the movie White Christmas, which features this song, with my Dad about ten years ago. Bing Crosby’s voice still rings loud and clear whenever I read the lines “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know, where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.” It keeps the wonder and magic of the Christmas season alive for me.

Bing Crosby’s biggest musical success came from this cover of “White Christmas” (written by Irving Berlin) in 1942. He would later win a Grammy for it in 1974. He would even go on to star in a film in 1954 that shared the same name. Bing Crosby obtained lots of success both as a solo singer and in small groups, but most notably as a solo artist later in his career. During World War II he would even travel overseas to perform and entertain U.S troops stationed in Europe.

For me, the name “Bing Crosby” evokes classic Christmas music--but the name Crosby has a much longer history in North America than my mid-twentieth century Christmas-music-nostalgia. In the year 1635, Simon Crosby--a direct ancestor of Bing--immigrated from Stillingfleet, England, along with his wife Anne Crosby and his son Thomas on the ship the Susan and Ellen. They resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Simon was a leader in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Simon, Anne, and Thomas Crosby would have lived right alongside Anne and Simon Bradstreet themselves!  Perhaps Simon and Anne Crosby had musical talents like their ancestor, Bing.

Fanny Crosby alongside one of her most famous compositions, “Blessed Assurance.”

Fanny Crosby alongside one of her most famous compositions, “Blessed Assurance.”

If music wasn’t in the Crosby line in the seventeenth-century, it had emerged there strongly in the nineteenth century. Fanny Crosby, a descendant of Simon and relative of Bing, was one of the most popular songwriters of the nineteenth century. Fanny Crosby was referred to as “America’s Hymn Queen” by some. She was blind from the time she was six weeks old, and her grandmother would take her for walks as a child and describe the world around her as best as she could to help Fanny imagine the world in some way. In her life, she wrote over 8,000 hymns, which she began composing at the age of six. Her most popular hymn was “Blessed Assurance.” This hymn was born when a composer Fanny knew played a simple melody and asked Fanny what this said to her. Fanny replied, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!”

Over three centuries, the Crosby family carried on the tradition of music, courage, patriotism, and a passion for learning. Fanny and Bing both left their marks on history and revolutionized the music industry. They changed the world they lived in. Bing continued this tradition through his music and all of his actions both as a student and as a performer. There musical legacy would have been very different without Simon and his family’s move to America.

Further Reading

For more on the Crosby family, check out their genealogy page. There’s more to learn about the musical talents of Bing and Fanny as well. Enjoy!

Bradstreet, Illness, and The Divine

At first glance, the Puritans of New England may seem a self-loathing bunch. They believed in predestination, meaning that it was predetermined by God which people would go to heaven and which to hell before they were even born. Their belief that all misfortunes were punishments from God no doubt caused much strife in their personal lives, and definitively shaped  their relationship with both the divine and the diabolical. As one delves into the poetry and personal writing of Anne Bradstreet, however, another perspective emerges. Bradstreet held these fundamental Puritan beliefs, but rather than viewing them grimly, she encouraged her children to understand every misfortune as an opportunity to grow closer to God and as a reminder to continually grow in virtue. Much of Bradstreet’s own suffering sprung from frequent illness throughout her life, so divinely-wrought illness became a recurring motif in her personal writing and poetry as she explored her own moral growth and relationship with God.

Puritan Children were taught devotional lessons about suffering and death at a young age through texts like  The New England Primer . See Indiana University’s  annotation full text edition for more .

Puritan Children were taught devotional lessons about suffering and death at a young age through texts like The New England Primer. See Indiana University’s annotation full text edition for more.

In her poem The Flesh and the Spirit, Bradstreet approaches the eternal human struggle between the physical and the spiritual as a dialogue between “two sisters,” Flesh and Spirit. Flesh “had her eye / on worldly wealth and vanity” and exposits to her sister the wonders of mortal life such as wealth, glory, and earthly pleasures, to which Spirit scathingly responds, “And combat with thee will and must, / Until I see thee laid in dust.” (232). The godly Spirit espouses the traditional Puritan position, that worldly attachments ultimately lead to sin, and focusing oneself on piety and Christian virtues is the only way to salvation. Moreover, Flesh and the worldly desires she represents are the sworn enemy of any true Christian, not only to be resisted but to be symbolically slain.

In Bradstreet’s mind, following the pleasures of Flesh is not only the way to corruption; Flesh itself is the corruption. In the final lines of the poem, Spirit tells her twin “This city pure is not for thee, / For things unclean there shall not be.” (234). This sentiment refutes the debaucherous lifestyle Flesh presents to her sister, and underscores the belief that the body and its needs are base and must be overcome. The physical body has no divine aspect in Bradstreet’s mind, and is totally divorced from the soul, as is evident in Spirit’s words “For from one father we are not, / Thou by old Adam was begot, / But my arise is from above, / Whence my dear father I do love”. The body is corrupt, and so more easily corruptible by illness, age, and weakness: “From sickness and infirmity / For evermore they shall be free; / No withering age shall e’re come there.” (232)

Bradstreet’s spiritual interpretation of physical malady is always one of divine punishment, linking the corruption of the body with the perseverance of the spirit in an ever-warring duality. In her personal account to her children, To My Dear Children, Bradstreet warns of her own failings and follies as the catalyst for illness cast on her by the divine.

He hath never suffered me long to sit loose from Him, but by one affliction or another hath made me look home, and search what was amiss; so usually thus it hath been with me that I have no sooner felt my heart out of order, but I have expected correction for it, which mostly hath been upon my own person in sickness. (263)

Bradstreet saw a direct correlation between her own moral or spiritual wrongs and illness, and she sought to teach her children from her own mistakes by handing down what wisdom she had gleaned in her years. Rather than trying to shield her children from life’s hardships and the wrath of the Lord, Anne hoped that by teaching her children about her own experiences and spiritual reflection they would learn to trust God through any trial, and understand that trial or illness as a way for them to grow in faith on their journey through life. “...sometimes He hath smote a child with a sickness, sometimes chastened by losses in estate, and these times (through His great mercy) have been the times of my greatest getting and advantage; yea, I have found them the times the Lord hath manifest the most love to me.” (264) To Bradstreet, divine punishment, especially in the form of illness, was not simply wrath to be weathered like a storm; it was an expression of God’s love for his devout earthly children, like a human parent chastising their child so they might grow in character.

A treatment for worms from The Countess of Kent’s  A choice manual, or Rare secrets in physick and chirurgery,  a guide to seventeenth century medical practices and remedies.

A treatment for worms from The Countess of Kent’s A choice manual, or Rare secrets in physick and chirurgery, a guide to seventeenth century medical practices and remedies.

Some of Bradstreet’s most visceral and touching descriptions of sickness spring from her daily life as a mother. In her poem The Four Ages, she recalls in disgusting detail the maladies of childhood, in which no doubt she gained much experience through rearing her offspring: “As many are my sins, so dangers too...What grippes of wind mine infancy did pain, / What tortures I in breeding teeth sustain? / What crudities my stomach cold hath bred, / Whence vomits, flux, and worms have issued?” (58). Bradstreet again relates all these illnesses to sin, reasoning that a babe’s capricious nature and tempestuous moods are just as punishable by God as an adult’s. Her characterization of childhood also holds notes of humor, with the narrator Childhood likening a baby throwing a tantrum over treats like apples or plums to war and battle, which tempers her moral binarism. Alongside the humorous notes Bradstreet continues expositing those archetypical Puritan views on the impurity of the body with lines such as, “Ah me! conceived in sin and born with sorrow” (56).

It would be negligent of me not to mention Anne Bradstreet’s dozen other writings on illness, mostly of her own or her husband’s. These include For Deliverance from a Fever, From Another Sore Fit, Deliverance From a Fit of Fainting, For the Restoration of My Dear Husband from a Burning Ague, June 1, 1661, and six of her accounts from between July 8, 1656 and May 11, 1661. In all of these poems and entries, Bradstreet alternately beseeches the Lord for his mercy, praises the Lord for sparing her loved ones and herself from death, and reflects on her own sinfulness as the source of illness. Like all people in the seventeenth century, Anne Bradstreet’s life was one almost constantly engaged with illness, whether it was her own or a loved one’s. While she held a standard Puritan view of the perceived relationship between illness and sin, the intimacy of her writing lets us peer into a small window and examine how Bradstreet’s experiences, faith, and relationships all affected her perception of illness throughout her life.

Deliverance from a Fit of Fainting

Worthy art Thou, O Lord, of praise, 
But ah! It's not in me. 
My sinking heart I pray Thee raise 
So shall I give it Thee. 

My life as spider's webb's cut off, 
Thus fainting have I said, 
And living man no more shall see 
But be in silence laid. 

My feeble spirit Thou didst revive, 
My doubting Thou didst chide, 
And though as dead mad'st me alive, 
I here a while might 'bide. 

Why should I live but to Thy praise? 
My life is hid with Thee. 
O Lord, no longer be my days 
Than I may fruitful be.


Bradstreet, Anne. The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Jeannine Hensley & Adrienne Rich, eds. John Harvard Library, 2010, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

For Deliverance From a Fever

Anne Bradstreet struggled with illness throughout her life. She contracted smallpox when she was still a child living in England, and she nearly died from the disease. A few years later, she fell ill after months of poor nutrition and difficult living conditions after her arrival in Massachusetts. During this troubling time, she wrote “Upon a Fit of Sickness” followed shortly thereafter by the poem “For Deliverance from a Fever.”  While the first poem conveys Bradstreet’s acceptance of death (read more from Bobby here), the second poem is full of frustration, pain, sadness, and anger at God.

Written as a second person direct address to God, Bradstreet begins “For Deliverance from a Fever” with a catalogue of her suffering. She has “Paines within and out,” and describes: “My burning flesh in sweat did boyle, / My aking head did break; / From side to side for ease I toyle, / So faint I could not speak.” These ailments lead her to cry out to God directly: “Hide not thy face from me” and “O, heal my Soul.” She is in pain and her mind is in disarray, her body is frail and she feels close to death. The overall mood of this is poem is despair, bordering on anger.  She begs God to hear her cries, and she wonders why he won’t hear her.

At the end of the poem, however, Bradstreet pushes through her anger and despair, and instead praises God “Who hath redeem'd my Soul from pitt.” Although this is a short poem, it conveys the progression of her emotions. She goes from questioning God in the beginning, screaming at him in the middle, to finally accepting that he has heard her voice and has healed her at the close. He took her out of the pit she was in and ends this poem by praising him for it.

Bradstreet may have taken a page from The Countess of Kent’s  A choice manual, or Rare secrets in physick and chirurgery,  a guide to seventeenth century medical practices and remedies.

Bradstreet may have taken a page from The Countess of Kent’s A choice manual, or Rare secrets in physick and chirurgery, a guide to seventeenth century medical practices and remedies.

Even secular readers can relate to the emotional range of “For Deliverance from a Fever.” Illness--mundane and severe--can be disorienting and frustrating. You might question why something like this has happened. Anne directed her frustrations and praise to  God, but you might voice your feelings to a friend, a doctor, social media, or something else altogether. Bradstreet also spends a great deal of time listing her symptoms and bodily suffering. When we are ill, it’s natural to do the same--to complain of a headache or fever, shakes or weaknesses. The end of disease likewise is cause for celebration. Even though this poem may feel distant for its use of language and devotion to Puritan theology, it is still relevant today for capturing the  sufferings and frustration of illness, and the jubilance of recovery.

For Deliverance From a Fever

When sorrows had begirt me round, 
And pains within and out, 
When in my flesh no part was found, 
Then didst Thou rid me out. 
My burning flesh in sweat did boil, 
My aching head did break, 
From side to side for ease I toil, 
So faint I could not speak. 
Beclouded was my soul with fear 
Of Thy displeasure sore, 
Nor could I read my evidence 
Which oft I read before. 
"Hide not Thy face from me!" I cried, 
"From burnings keep my soul. 
Thou know'st my heart, and hast me tried; 
I on Thy mercies roll." 
"O heal my soul," Thou know'st I said, 
"Though flesh consume to nought, 
What though in dust it shall be laid, 
To glory t' shall be brought." 
Thou heard'st, Thy rod Thou didst remove 
And spared my body frail 
Thou show'st to me Thy tender love, 
My heart no more might quail. 
O, praises to my mighty God, 
Praise to my Lord, I say, 
Who hath redeemed my soul from pit, 
Praises to Him for aye. 

Anne & Simon: A Puritan Romance

From heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, to bouquets of roses and pre-written Hallmark cards, Valentine’s Day today is saturated in commercialism and decadence. It will probably come as no surprise that New England’s seventeenth-century Puritans did not celebrate Valentine’s Day. In fact, under the influence of our modern interpretation of the Puritans, imagining how they might have celebrated Valentine’s Day can be comical. Search “Puritan Valentine Cards” and you’ll get images like these ones, posted by College Humor in 2013:  

puritan 3.jpg

While it’s easy to laugh at the Puritans for their tight-laced lifestyles and incessant sanctitude, it is also important to note that, generally, the above sentiments simply aren't all that historically accurate.  In fact, our modern perception of Puritans as sexless, emotionless, infinitely pious beings was a Victorian invention. Perhaps it stems from Victorian morality and a kinship they saw with the Puritans as a result of that sort of social behavior, but nonetheless, that depiction endured, and has seeped into our modern views.

Looking back, before the Victorians filtered the Puritans through their eyes, you will realize that the Puritans were real people, with real emotions and desires. Anne Bradstreet’s poetry paints a different picture of romance and desire than the one typically imagined—one that challenges our modern perception of New England in the seventeenth-century.

“To My Dear and Loving Husband”

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more we may live ever.

In 1628, at the age of sixteen, Anne Dudley married twenty-five year old Simon Bradstreet. Shortly thereafter, in 1630, the Bradstreets set off on a three month journey aboard The Arbella to settle in the New World. The journey was rough, and did not exactly fall into our twenty first-century ideas of a happy honeymoon for the young couple. When they finally started their lives in Massachusetts Bay Colony, Anne and Simon were frequently separated due to Simon’s influence and governmental positions. This was hard on Anne, who displayed sentiments of deep pining for Simon to return home in her poem “A Letter to her Husband, absent upon Publick employment.”

O strange effect! now thou art Southward gone,
I weary grow, the tedious day so long;
But when thou Northward to me shalt return,
I wish my Sun may never set, but burn
Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,
The welcome house of him my dearest guest.
Where ever, ever stay, and go not thence,
Till natures sad decree shall call thee hence;
Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,
I here, thou there, yet both but one.

Anne Bradstreet lived in a vastly different world from our own, but poems like this remind modern readers of Anne’s humanity, and remove that disconnect initially felt due to her Puritan beliefs. The emotions Anne puts down on the page are ones of someone who is deeply in love. She refers to herself and Simon as “one,” and remarks that the days seem to drag on forever when she is away from him. In both “A Letter to her Husband,” and  “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” Anne maintains a strong theme of unity, and a deep sense of wholeness between herself and Simon.

Although the Puritans had different ideals about life than the majority of us do today, Anne Bradstreet helps us find the connections over time that may not be immediately apparent. Today, love is widely considered essential for marriage. The Puritans felt similarly, however, the order of operations was reversed—marrying for love is a newer concept. The Puritans saw love as essential to a marital union, but it was not the reason for it. Marriage was meant for security, community, and procreation—love is what came after. In Anne and Simon’s case, the love they felt was clearly strong and passionate.

Despite the love and devotion Puritans often felt for their spouses, it was common practice for Puritans to remarry quickly after their spouse died. Anne Bradstreet died in 1672, and Simon remarried a woman named Ann Gardner in 1676. The four years that Simon waited to remarry after Anne’s passing was much longer than typical in his time. It is difficult to decipher Simon’s thoughts, his journals are rather morbid, relating who in the towns had died and when rather than discussing personal matters. As far as I have looked, I have not been able to find a single reference to Anne in his writing after her death. People handle grief in different ways, in Simon’s case, perhaps speaking about Anne was too painful. In any case, Anne’s deep words of affection for her husband live on in her writing.

Anne and Simon had eight children together. Although Simon was away for long periods of time during their marriage, in the loving manner Anne writes about him, it is clear that the two had a happy union.  Anne and Simon’s romance was a very seventeenth-century one, but was it all that different from romantic popular media today? Instead of buying your significant other a pre-written card for Valentine’s day this year, read them some Anne Bradstreet poetry, trust me, they’ll like it better.


On Death's Door

“Upon a Fit of Sickness” details Anne Bradstreet’s confrontation with death at the young age of 19. A few years after her arrival in Massachusetts, Bradstreet fell very ill with a fever and believed that there was a strong chance that this disease would end her life. In the poem, Bradstreet does not despair in the face of death, but instead faces her future without fear, writing,  “All men must die, and so must I/ this cannot be revoked” (Lines 5-6). Her embrace of death at a young age might seem surprising for twenty-first century readers, but it was perhaps a more common attitude among seventeenth-century teenagers who were surrounded by death so much. Medicine and healthcare in the seventeenth-century were so poor that when someone got sick with even a common illness, survival rates were very low and people became normalized to death. The lines of “Upon a Fit of Sickness” also show that she was very humble and even in her most honest moments with herself she did not think that she was better than anyone else and that she  could not cheat death.

"Le Médecin guérissant Phantasie," Mattheus Greuter, 1620 (Bibliothèque nationale de France). The seventeenth-century equivalent of a brain scan reflects some of the medical thinking of Bradstreet’s day.

"Le Médecin guérissant Phantasie," Mattheus Greuter, 1620 (Bibliothèque nationale de France). The seventeenth-century equivalent of a brain scan reflects some of the medical thinking of Bradstreet’s day.

For me, this poem makes life seem quite trivial. It seems as though Anne thought that life was just something very temporary and tedious and  that people are just living to die. This is very apparent to me when she says, “Our strength doth waste, our time doth haste/ and then we go to th’ tomb” (Lines 14-15). This depressing acceptance of death continues throughout the poem, suggesting that nothing we do really matters and at the end of the day we all just die anyways so who really cares. At the end of the poem, Bradstreet finds “victory” in death through her faith, which is a bit more uplifting than the resignation at the outset.  This shows that even though she was at her lowest point, she found comfort in the inevitability of death and God’s promise of salvation. As morbid as this might seen, Bradstreet’s early brush with death ignited in her a passion that she was not aware she had--she became a poet. She was able to turn to poetry in her darkest hours and create something special. This was the first extant poem that she wrote in her career and this lead to a lot more poetic success for the rest of her life.

Upon A Fit Of Sickness, Anno 1632

Twice ten years old not fully told 
since nature gave me breath, 
My race is run, my thread spun, 
lo, here is fatal death. 
All men must die, and so must I; 
this cannot be revoked. 
For Adam's sake this word God spake 
when he so high provoked. 
Yet live I shall, this life's but small, 
in place of highest bliss, 
Where I shall have all I can crave, 
no life is like to this. 
For what's this but care and strife 
since first we came from womb? 
Our strength doth waste, our time doth haste, 
and then we go to th' tomb. 
O bubble blast, how long can'st last? 
that always art a breaking, 
No sooner blown, but dead and gone, 
ev'n as a word that's speaking. 
O whilst I live this grace me give, 
I doing good may be, 
Then death's arrest I shall count best, 
because it's Thy decree; 
Bestow much cost there's nothing lost, 
to make salvation sure, 
O great's the gain, though got with pain, 
comes by profession pure. 
The race is run, the field is won, 
the victory's mine I see; 
Forever known, thou envious foe, 
the foil belongs to thee.

Forsaken Earth & Faith in Heaven in Bradstreet’s “The Flesh and the Spirit”

In Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “The Flesh and the Spirit,” our speaker overhears a conversation between two sisters, Flesh, the embodiment of base human desire and worldly pleasures, and Spirit, the embodiment of faith and trust in God and Heaven. As Flesh covets greed and material wealth, Spirit hopes to reap greater rewards in the afterlife. In a similar fashion to some of her other poems such as “The Four Elements” and “The Four Seasons,” Bradstreet personifies abstract ideas through female characters who weigh their merits in the form of a conversational debate.

In secret place where once I stood
Close by the Banks of Lacrim flood,
I heard two sisters reason on
Things that are past and things to come.
One Flesh was call'd, who had her eye
On worldly wealth and vanity;
The other Spirit, who did rear
Her thoughts unto a higher sphere.

What is most interesting to me about this move is that she represents her characters as females, and in particular in this poem, as twin sisters. This move—allowing women to represent universal human concerns—subverts conventional ideas of representation in literary works. Traditionally, males are often depicted as embodiments of powerful entities like gods or elements, and when women are present, they are often lesser gods or entities who suffer dominance under masculine powers. By representing the Earth and the Heavens as females, Bradstreet highlights the importance of femininity in universal beings and truths.

Engraving by Isabella Piccini from  Poesie Liriche Di Baldassarre Pisani  (Venice, 1676). British Library 11429.df.1.

Engraving by Isabella Piccini from Poesie Liriche Di Baldassarre Pisani (Venice, 1676). British Library 11429.df.1.

The conflict between these two female speakers is intense, as they represent two opposite ideals. Flesh is presented as a vain and base being, much like the Devil sent to corrupt Adam and Eve. Flesh argues that spirituality alone cannot satisfy the body and its needs, and tries to tempt Spirit by saying, “Earth hath more silver, pearls, and gold,/Than eyes can see or hands can hold…take thy fill,/Earth hath enough of what you will” (lines 34-35). Despite Flesh’s attempt, Spirit is adamant about her faith in Heaven and God above, as she argues “Thy sinful pleasures I do hate,/Thy riches are to me no bait,…/My thoughts do yield me more content/Than can thy hours in pleasure spent” (lines 58-59, 70-71). Spirit shows greater resolve in the face of Flesh’s offers, and seeks not the treasures of our world but of Heaven, and for that she is willing to give up any Earthly pleasures for pleasures she believes lie in the afterlife. This sentiment is reminiscent of Bradstreet’s own religious devotion and no doubt she would like her speaker to convey the message of Heaven’s eternal pleasures of that over Earth’s fleeting ones.


The hidden Manna I do eat;
The word of life, it is my meat.
My thoughts do yield me more content
Than can thy hours in pleasure spent.

What I find so interesting about this poem is the animosity that Spirit feels toward her sister, as she swears, “thee as a foe still to pursue./And combat with thee will and must,/Until I see thee laid in th’ dust” (lines 41-43) which reads as aggressive and violent toward Flesh. Flesh is treated not only as Earth and human desire but as sin itself, which, in turn, reflects the idea that humanity and Earth are evils to be combated by the spirit. Spirit even goes as far to say that Earth holds “trash” (line 81) compared to what lies in Heaven, which is a negative outlook on human life on Earth. In the final two lines, Spirit forsakes the Earth and people, “If I of heaven may have my fill,/Take thou the world and all that will,” in return for what the heavens have to offer. Perhaps this idea seems so extreme to me because I do not share the same religious zeal as Bradstreet did, but her character of Spirit appears adamantly antagonistic to the world and its people. While Flesh is perhaps too greedy and materialistically obsessed, I wonder if Bradstreet meant for us to find a flaw in Spirit, who seems to have no faith or belief in humans and the Earth. While it can easily be argued that our Earth has experienced many horrible tragedies and humans can act quite sinfully, it also can be argued that our world has given us many beautiful wonders, such as poetry, nature, and human relationships.

From sickness and infirmity
Forevermore they shall be free.
Nor withering age shall e're come there,
But beauty shall be bright and clear.
This City pure is not for thee,
For things unclean there shall not be.
If I of Heav'n may have my fill,
Take thou the world, and all that will.' 

Upcoming Series: Illness and Connection in Bradstreet's Poetry

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s winter in Massachusetts--but worry not! The Bradstreet Fellows have a new series of blog posts to help you through the short days and cold nights.

First, Dakota Durbin illuminates Anne Bradstreet’s “The Flesh and The Spirit,” a poem that stages a debate between two sisters--one representing a flawed earthly body and the other a transcendent spirit. In this poem, Bradstreet revives a strategy she uses in “The Four Seasons” and “Of The Four Humours,” which also stage philosophical debates among sisters. Dakota teases out the promises and pitfalls of such a formulation.

Dakota’s analysis sets the stage for a three part series on Bradstreet’s relationship to illness (just in time for cold and flu season!). Bobby Tolan, Daniel Proulx, and Emma Leaden each evaluate a poem that grapples with Anne Bradstreet’s earthly body as she endures bouts of illness. As this series suggests, Bradstreet was often sick--she contracted smallpox while still in England; shortly after her arrival in Massachusetts, she suffered a severe fever. As Bobby, Daniel, and Emma illustrate, Bradstreet understood illness as a lesson from God, and saw a correlation between sickness and her spiritual wrongs. In this way, Bradstreet’s illnesses were opportunities to correct her perceived wrongs and to celebrate God’s oversight of her life.

Our next three posts take us out of the sickbed and into a world of unexpected connections. First, Isabella Connor reads one of Bradstreet’s most popular poems, “From the Author to My Husband.” In this Valentine’s Day post, Isabella sheds light on Anne's relationship with Simon, and showcases the ways in which Puritan romances compare and contrast to our relationship ideals today. Second, Taylor Galusha revives the sounds of the holiday season by tracing the ancestry of a very famous Christmastime songster to Bradstreet’s seventeenth-century neighborhood. As it turns out, this mystery singer comes from a long line of musicians who have been serenading audiences in and around our corner of Massachusetts for centuries. Finally, Rochelle Brothers reflects on her multi-sensory experience of the archive. For Rochelle, the smells, sounds, and textures of the archival documents we’ve encountered facilitate a meaningful connection to Anne Bradstreet over time.

In addition to these posts, we have three forthcoming projects we will release this March in celebration of Women’s History Month. Though we’re keeping the details of these projects under wraps for now--we can guarantee that they will bring you a little bit closer to the life and works of Andover’s first poet. Stay tuned for more information!

Playing with Anne at The Witch House

The Witch House is the only structure in Salem still standing that has a direct tie to the Witch Trials of 1692-3 (twenty years after Anne’s death).

The Witch House is the only structure in Salem still standing that has a direct tie to the Witch Trials of 1692-3 (twenty years after Anne’s death).

A few weeks ago, our group went to see the play From the Author to my Husband at the Salem Witch House. The Salem Witch House is more formally known as the Jonathan Corwin House, but it gets its popular name from Corwin’s role as a judge during the witch trials. As a resident of Peabody, I have been to Salem frequently. I even remember taking a field trip to the Witch House when I was in elementary school. So, when we visited the house for the play, a wave of nostalgia hit as soon as I saw the various rooms: they were very similar to what I remember from that field trip. The house is set up to look like it would have in the seventeenth-century. It has low ceilings and it’s furniture is made of wood and iron. The fireplace is filled with seventeenth-century pots and pans. It gives you a sense of how people lived when Anne Bradstreet was alive.

Upon arriving at the small stage set up in one of the rooms of the Witch House, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the play. Was this play going to be about Anne Bradstreet’s life in third person? Was this play going to be only loosely-based on her life? I went into the theatre with an open mind, intrigued by how Anne was going to be represented on stage.

The play--written by Kristina Wacome Stevick and directed by Kimberly LaCroix--chronicles the life of Anne Bradstreet. The cast is composed of four women, each representing Anne at a different stage of her life. Though Simon, Anne’s sisters, father, and children are incorporated into the dialogue of the play, there are not characters representing them. This way, Anne was central to the performance. The play begins as Anne prepares for her voyage to America from England, it animates her domestic life in Massachusetts, and closes with her loss of multiple family members shortly before her own death. Each actress did a fantastic job portraying her; their lines were funny, sad, and full of life. Watching Anne represented by actual women truly helped me visualize Anne as a living, breathing human being in the past.

The play made many little-known references to Bradstreet’s life and poetry. For example, she frequently mentions a woman named Anne Hutchinson, an infamous Puritan woman who lived in Massachusetts before she was banished for preaching. Bradstreet likely knew Hutchinson in real life, but their relationship is not well documented. The play also weaved Bradstreet’s poetry into the dialogue of the characters. For example, when she first sees her published book of poetry, the actress jestingly exclaims “thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain.” The line was integrated seamlessly into the dialogue and rewards audience members who are familiar with Bradstreet’s work. Similarly, Stevik organized many aspects of the play into fours--like Anne’s early quaternions. For example, as Anne was aging, the season would change. The play begins in spring, and ends in winter as she is mourning her relatives passing away. I found this to be a creative way to integrate aspects of her poetry into the form of the play; one of her longer poems is entitled “The Four Seasons” and the form of the play spoke to the content of this poem.

We found not one, but two Anne Bradstreets!! Kristina Wacome Stevick (playwright), Rochelle Brothers (fellow), Emma Leaden (fellow), Jacque Denault (Merrimack alum), Isabella Conner (fellow), Macey Jennings (Anne #1), Tess McKinley (Anne #4), Dakota Durbin (fellow), Jessica Melanson (fellow), and Professor Pottroff.

We found not one, but two Anne Bradstreets!! Kristina Wacome Stevick (playwright), Rochelle Brothers (fellow), Emma Leaden (fellow), Jacque Denault (Merrimack alum), Isabella Conner (fellow), Macey Jennings (Anne #1), Tess McKinley (Anne #4), Dakota Durbin (fellow), Jessica Melanson (fellow), and Professor Pottroff.

After the play was over, We got to meet the actresses and playwright. The playwright’s dedication to Anne was impressive. She told us she had spent months researching and reading about Anne’s life. As she was writing and revising the play, she found herself coming even closer to Anne, a fellow female writer.

Experiencing this play at the Witch House added a new layer of my experience with Salem and Anne Bradstreet, especially given that Bradstreet might have known the house and its occupants herself. Perhaps, Simon even visited the house during his lifetime (he moved to Salem shortly after Anne’s death). In many ways, this plays brought us even closer to the life and poetry of Anne Bradstreet.

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Jessica Melanson

Jessica Melanson is a Sophomore at Merrimack College. She is an English Major and Education minor. She is involved with Austin Scholars, the Education Club, the Odyssey Online, and works as a lounge assistant on campus. In her free time, she likes to write, is a photographer, and a frequent traveller. She plans on teaching high school students after her graduation in 2021.


Anne and the Trees

“Shall I then praise the heavens, the trees, the earth
Because their beauty and their strength last longer? ”
—“Contemplations,” Anne Bradstreet

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Poets draw inspiration from countless subjects, whether from life experiences or physical objects in around them, and Anne Bradstreet is no exception. While we walk around North Andover in her footsteps, we can’t help but wonder what environmental features we share across time. Trees come up time and time again in Bradstreet’s poems, and they are very present on and around the Merrimack campus as well. Which trees shaded the dirt walkways the Puritans strolled on sunny afternoons and which ones never made it to the saw mill?

We decided to set off on our own sunny afternoon stroll and see which trees that still stand on Merrimack College’s campus would have been around during Anne Bradstreet’s days—trees that may have inspired this great American poet.


Can you count the rings? Of course, we opted for the less invasive approach.

Can you count the rings? Of course, we opted for the less invasive approach.

There are two common methods to estimate the age of a tree. The first method, the most well known, consists of counting the rings on the inside of the tree. This method is very invasive and would require the tree to be cut down--something we do not want to do. The second method is not invasive at all and merely requires a measuring device, some simple math, and identifying the species of the tree.

We selected two of the largest trees on campus to measure and estimate their age. We collected leaves from the two trees and used a form from the Arbor Day Foundation to identify the species. Each species of tree has its own unique features and rate at which it grows. According to the form, tree Number 1 was a Norway Maple, according to the form and Tree Number 2 was a Silver Maple.

After identifying the species of tree, we measured their circumferences. Not knowing how high up to measure, we consulted the City of Portland, Oregon's website which advised that “the tree diameter [should be] measured at 4.5 feet above the ground.” We didn’t have a measuring tape on hand, so we wrapped a piece of blue painters tape was wrapped around each tree, marked it, and brought the tape back indoors to be measured.

Then, we were able to calculate the results found below, following this simple method.

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The circumference is calculated by measuring the perimeter of the tree. The diameter is then calculated by taking the circumference and dividing by pi. The growth factor was found using a chart from “The Living Urn,” which displayed the growth factor of many species of trees, including the Norway Maple (4.5) and the Silver Maple (3.0). To calculate the estimated age, the growth factor is then multiplied by the diameter of the tree.


After following this method we were able to determine that the first tree has been around since approximately 1492, and the second tree has been around since approximately 1600, meaning both of these trees were alive during Anne Bradstreet’s lifetime. In the future, it would also be interesting to see just how many of the trees across Merrimack’s campus existed during this time period. It is truly remarkable how old these trees actually are and how much history they have been through.

Why This Matters

Puritans viewed nature very differently than we do today. They viewed nature as an enemy—a place where evil resided. They believed nature, represented the dark evil in human life. To them, the unknown wilderness and their fear of indigenous people, witchcraft, and the devil went hand in hand. Anne Bradstreet’s poetry shows a marked contrast to this fear of nature—Much of her poetry focuses on and is inspired by nature. Unlike many of her Puritan contemporaries, Bradstreet often viewed nature as a kindred spirit rather than an enemy, and sought out solace, peace, and inspiration from it.

“Under the cooling shadow of a stately elm
Close sate I by a goodly river’s side,
Where gliding streams the rocks did overwhelm,
A lonely place, with pleasures dignified.
I once that loved the shady woods so well,
Now thought the rivers did the trees excel,
And if the sun would ever shine, there would I dwell.”

As seen in the above passage of “Contemplations,” Bradstreet admired nature for its  greatness and longevity. She imagines, that if “if the sun would ever shine” she would choose to stay in such an environment—one where she feels comforted and at peace with herself. Many modern readers feel distanced from Bradstreet’s writing due to her Puritanism, however, passages like these serve as wonderful reminders to twenty-first century readers that Bradstreet wasn't all that different from ourselves. Bradstreet experienced severe illness, and suffered heartbreak and hardship throughout her lifetime. To alleviate her day-to-day struggles, she sought refuge in both nature and her art.

And so, into the woods Anne Bradstreet went to hone her creativity. We are lucky to be able to walk the same paths she once did and, as a result, form a deeper connection to our poetess and our own natural environment.

Taylor Galusha

Taylor Galusha is a Political Science and English double major at Merrimack College. She enjoys reading anything—from classic Shakespearean plays to true crime novels and everything in between. She enjoys music, painting, and photography. She loves her dog Brady dearly and is a Disney Enthusiast. She plans to attend law school after graduating from Merrimack in 2020. 

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Isabella Connor

Isabella Connor has been fascinated by history and literature for as long as she can remember. She has worked as a tour guide at Salem’s famous House of the Seven Gables, and has a passion for bringing history to the public. Isabella also works for Merrimack College’s English department publication, The Broadsheet, and is a fiction writer on her own time. 

Imagining Anne Bradstreet's Funeral

Bradstreet’s modern memorial stone in Old Burying Ground in North Andover.

Bradstreet’s modern memorial stone in Old Burying Ground in North Andover.

O whilst I live this grace me give,
I doing good may be,
Then death's arrest I shall count best,
because it's Thy decree;
Bestow much cost there's nothing lost,
to make salvation sure,
O great's the gain, though got with pain,
comes by profession pure.
The race is run, the field is won,
the victory's mine I see;
Forever known, thou envious foe,
the foil belongs to thee.

— “Upon a Fit of Sickness” by Anne Bradstreet

Death is an unfortunate side effect of life. The Puritans of seventeenth-century New England experienced death quite regularly. The harsh seasons, manual labour, disease, lack of hygiene and medicines, and attacks by Native Americans contributed to a shorter life expectancy. Despite being a common and often sudden occurrence, the Puritans were not indifferent to death. In fact, they feared it. The Puritans lived a life of toil for God, and hoped to reach salvation thereafter. Death was the great uncertainty. Did the deceased go to heaven? Was the death a punishment or warning to those left behind?

Ritualized funerary practices helped Puritans deal with death and its spiritual uncertainties. Not only did funerals help the living grieve a lost loved one, but they also served as a place for them to channel their fear and uncertainty into Puritan devotion. Some old English customs followed the early settlers across the pond. Mourning rings cast out of silver or gold were often passed down through families. These rings carried inscriptions, symbols of death, and sometimes a lock of hair from the dead. Later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, watches, brooches, and other mourning jewelry became in fashion. Even today, New Englanders sometimes craft keepsake jewelry and memorial ornaments with which we remember our loved-ones.

American Ring, 1764. Probably made in New York, New York, United States. Metropolitan Museum. Inscribed on outside of band: Mary Vallete Ob.5 June 1762, AET. 61 Ys. 8 Ms

American Ring, 1764. Probably made in New York, New York, United States. Metropolitan Museum. Inscribed on outside of band: Mary Vallete Ob.5 June 1762, AET. 61 Ys. 8 Ms

The Puritans, having left England and its religious oppression behind, also carved out new rituals and customs of their own to mourn the dead. For example, when a person died, loved ones would write poems or messages for the deceased. It was not uncommon for the funeral bier to overflow with lines of verse written by neighbours and family members. Sometimes, these notes were gathered up and compiled as a keepsake book of mourning for the deceased. Other times, these poems remained with the casket and were buried with the body. Anne’s poems, “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild, Elizabeth Bradstreet,” “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild, Anne Bradstreet,” and “On My Dear Grandchild, Simon Bradstreet,” are several examples of poetic elegies for her lost relatives. Though we encounter these elegies in book form, they would have looked very different in the context of a New England funeral.


These poems were heartfelt, but they were also almost certainly written in haste. Bodies needed to be buried within a couple of days of death because embalming wasn’t practiced until the late 1600s. According to the Vital Records of [North] Andover, Anne died on September 16, 1672 and “was buried the Wednesday after.” Five days would have elapsed between her death and burial, longer than usual. We speculate this delay was necessary to allow her friend and visiting minister John Norton to attend her funeral from a greater distance.

" Georgian Skeleton Ring " 21st-C. mourning ring on Etsy.

"Georgian Skeleton Ring" 21st-C. mourning ring on Etsy.

" Hair Lock Ring " 21st-C. mourning ring on Etsy.

"Hair Lock Ring" 21st-C. mourning ring on Etsy.

At a typical Puritan funeral, pallbearers would carry the simple wooden coffin through the town in a silent procession. Sometimes, bearers would have to take it in shifts if the burial plot was a goodly distance from the residence. The funeral, likewise, would be completely silent. Unlike funerals in England, eulogies, prayers, and songs were not indulged at these early Puritan gravesides. Silence was a defining feature of the procession and burial. The loved-ones would be buried, in church cemeteries, town cemeteries, or in designated areas on private property, and condolences were made at a later time. Funerals were so frequent, and preparations so time consuming, palls were considered property of the church and were recycled instead of personalised for each burial.

As the century progressed, and with the influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants, funerals began to resemble the practices we are familiar with today. Eating and drinking became quite popular at funerals, along with songs, prayers, and a general celebration of the life of the deceased. In fact, drinking basically became the main purpose for funerals. According to nineteenth-century historian Alice Morse Earl “This liberal serving of intoxicating liquor…prevailed in every settlement in the colonies until the temperance-awakening days of this century. Throughout New England, bills for funerals…were large in items of rum, cider, whiskey, lemons, sugar, spices." The staunch Puritans were likely increasingly offended at the carousing that followed funerals.

List of expenses at the funeral of David Porter of Hartford, who died of drowning (quoted in Alice Morse Earle's Customs and Fashions in Old New England):

By a pint of liquor for those who dived for him: 1s.
By a
quart of liquor for those who bro’t him home: 2s.
By two quarts of wine & 1 gallon of cyder to jury of inquest: 5s.
8 gallons & 3 qts. wine for funeral: £1. 15s.
Barrel cyder for funeral: 16s.
1 coffin:
Windeing sheet:

Usually weeks after burial, colonists would place a headstone to commemorate the deceased. Stone from Wales was imported and used to make headstones, but most graves were marked by simple wooden markers or slate. When a woman died, her name was added to her husband’s marker. When a woman predeceased her husband, she was buried in a marital plot, with her family, or with with her children. Since Anne Bradstreet preceded Simon, her husband, to the grave, she could be buried anywhere.

Today, funeral services can be as varied and individualized as the people they are honoring, but many of the rituals and practices the New England Puritans developed are still in observance. Silent funeral processions, often carried out in vehicles, minimal graveside speaking, and the business of remembrance artifacts are all legacies of mourning passed down to us from the Puritans. Religion still can play a crucial role in funereal practice today, but Anne Bradstreet’s generation taught us that it is acceptable to break from tradition and forge new ways to cope with death and its uncertainties. We may not be able to fully comprehend the struggles that came with living in seventeenth-century New England, but our shared grief at the loss of a loved one and our efforts for commemoration transcend time.


Rochelle Brothers

Rochelle Brothers is an English and creative writing major at Merrimack College, and she is accompanied by her guide dog, who is majoring in English as a second language. They are avid readers, reading between five and seven books a week, and Rochelle writes fiction short stories and hopes to become published some day. These two like to travel together, whip up delicious dog treats in the kitchen, play enthusiastic games of hide and seek, and spend lazy afternoons cuddled up with an audiobook. Rochelle plays cello in her spare time, and her dog is honing her skills of sniffing out elusive 17th-century poets. 

The Fleeting Nature of Literary Fame

Compared to writers like Walt Whitman, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Anne Bradstreet is a pretty unknown figure in the American public consciousness. Despite her achievement as the New World’s first published poet, she is generally not remembered as one of America’s greats--her work is not often featured in high school or university-level American Literature courses, her name is unfamiliar to most. Put plainly, everything I know about Bradstreet I learned through this fellowship. I have come to appreciate Bradstreet’s creative work and the trials she and other people living in the seventeenth century faced. Reading these historical records and poetry of an underappreciated author has taught me an additional lesson about the transient nature of literary fame--for Bradstreet and other long-forgotten writers.

"Among the happy wits this age hath shown
Great, dear, sweet Bartas thou art matchless known"
--Anne Bradstreet's "In honour Of Du Bartas, 1641"

The forward of The Works of Anne Bradstreet by Adrienne Rich continually features Bradstreet’s name alongside another literary celebrity of the past: Du Bartas. Seventeenth-century contemporaries compare Bradstreet to Du Bartas in their introductory verses originally printed in The Tenth Muse; Nathaniel Ward calls her “a right Du Bartas girl,” her name is anagrammed into “Dear neat An Bartas. / So Bartas like thy fine spun poems been, / That Bartas’ name will prove an epicene,” and Bradstreet herself penned the poem In Honour of Du Bartas in 1641. So I began to wonder: who the hell is Du Bartas, and why was he so popular and esteemed? How did he influence other writers of the time, especially Anne Bradstreet? Lastly and most interesting to me, why have his works, and similarly the memory of Anne Bradstreet, not withstood the test of time?


The forward of The Works of Anne Bradstreet provides a few tidbits on Du Bartas and the impact his works had on Bradstreet’s own writing. Bradstreet was a well-educated young woman provided with the extensive resource of her father’s library. During the early years of her marriage, Bradstreet often spent her time reading and writing, and Joshua Sylvester’s translation of Guillame Du Bartas’ La Semaine du Creation (translated into English as The Divine Weekes and Works) made quite an impression on her. The poem is an adaptation of the Genesis story from a Protestant viewpoint, and meditates on the seven days of creation and the surrounding drama of Satan and the angels. According to the forward by Adrienne Rich, Du Bartas’ poem was “an acknowledged popular masterpiece,” boasted multiple 17th century English translations, and was also a massive influence on Milton’s Paradise Lost. Rich also notes that, like many people in her day, Bradstreet greatly admired Du Bartas and was heavily influenced by The Divine Weekes, but she almost never attempted to emulate his style or language. Rich observes “She was influenced more by Du Bartas’ range and his encyclopedic conception of poetry, than by his stylistic qualities…at its best her style, even in those apprentice pieces, has a plain modesty and directness which owe nothing to Du Bartas” (xiii).

Research into Du Bartas’ work, specifically La Semaine, reveals that it was extremely popular in France for a very short period of time, likely because Du Bartas’ Huguenot beliefs and the distinctly Protestant views permeating his verse were not particularly popular in the largely Catholic France. However, La Semaine found a willing Protestant audience in England, where it had a much longer lasting impact on English writing and culture and, most famously, influenced Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Though Bradstreet and other writers of her time praise Du Bartas to the point of excess, I could not find such extreme praise from modern academics. For instance, in Adrienne Rich’s forward to The Works of Anne Bradstreet, she refers to La Semaine as “elephantine” and “quivering with excesses, laborious and fascinating as some serpent winding endlessly along” (xii). Rich acknowledges that despite the tedious challenge it presents to the modern reader, “one can understand its mesmeric attraction for an age unglutted by trivial or pseudo-momentous information,” but such a concession is hardly a compliment, and not nearly so enthused as our examples from the 17th century. It seems that the “lofty style” which Bradstreet lauded in her ode is now viewed as overwrought and unnecessary. In fact, La Semaine’s rapid wane in popularity in France at the time may have been due to the very style English speakers praised. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica’s public website page on Du Bartas, “La Semaine did not remain popular in France for long; its style is marred by numerous neologisms and ungainly compound adjectives, and the didactic intent is too obvious.” It is possible that La Semaine owed its popularity in England at least in part to its English translations, or perhaps cultural attitudes in England were more forgiving towards obvious, reiterated morals in their art? Whatever the reason, Bradstreet’s style, which she often refers to as homespun or simple in her own verses, has proven to be more digestible and praiseworthy in our era than Du Bartas’ bloated eloquence.

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I personally think that this little story of Du Bartas and Bradstreet is a great example of the ultimate transience of fame and public praise. There are thousands of these stories to be found throughout history of course, but in reading seventeenth-century poets’ praise of Du Bartas against contemporary opinions, I developed a deeper and more lucid perspective on artistic trends than I’ve ever had before. There is something jarring in the emotional realization that the records and names we find in our research were actual human lives. Even if one constantly reflects on the brevity of our own human experience and mortality, the emotional impact of empathizing with long-dead individuals forces us to realize our own transience through the lens of their recorded experience. We recognize the extremely small space we occupy in history because we can compare our impact to theirs. Most of us are not famous figures like Du Bartas, and his story shows that even if fame promises immortality, it’s a promise rarely kept.

Time has been a bit kinder to Anne Bradstreet than to Guillame Du Bartas since her works are more often praised by modern critics, but even so, both of these distinguished writers are somewhat unknown today. Trends in popular media probably catapulted Du Bartas to fame in England because of his work’s Protestant flavor, and Anne Bradstreet’s poetry has become more highly regarded since the 20th century precisely due to its simple mastery of language and imagery.

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Emma Leaden

Emma Leaden is an English Major with a minor in Film Studies at Merrimack College who plans to graduate in May 2019. She has worked for several Merrimack publications: as the Art Editor for the Expressions literary magazine, as the undergraduate co-editor for Merrimack's interdisciplinary journal Intersections, as well as participating in clubs such as Film Club and The Writer's Circle. Emma enjoys illustration, writing, gardening, reading, and enjoying nature in her free time (when she is lucky enough to have it).

Following the Fellows: Week Two

We are now into the second week of our journey to find the gravesite of Anne Bradstreet, America’s first poet. It has been a busy week for the fellows and professors from Merrimack. Now that the second group has visited the North Andover Historical Society, everyone has gotten the crash course in everything they have to offer.

As Isabella mentioned in an earlier post, there aren’t many documents that directly relate to Anne and Simon’s lives, but the North Andover Historical Society does have records of town meetings and land grants. One such document is a seventeenth-century grant related to Anne’s son Simon's mill.

At first, this struck me as a kind of obscure thing for the historical society to have. The grant itself serves a pretty small purpose. From what we learned, the only reason it survived was pure luck. It was in a random pile of papers that was not burned by fire or taken by raiders--the fate of many other seventeenth-century documents. We can see the mill grant today because it was left in the right place at the right time, not because it is a record of vital importance. On top of that Simon Bradstreet likely had no idea how to run a mill--he was trained as a minister not a mill operator. That he bought a mill speaks to the ways the Bradstreet family built their wealth.

The North Andover Historical Society also has a map of the Town of [North] Andover as it was in 1692. A couple of our fellows took the time to figure out where Merrimack College would have been on the 1692 map. In future weeks, we will tell you more about what we are learning from this map. Overall, our time at the North Andover Historical Society was great and we all learned something new from them. We can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and willingness to work with us.

Later, all of the fellows and professors took the short trip over to the old burial ground in North Andover were there is a modern gravestone for Anne Bradstreet (which was placed in 2000 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of The Tenth Muse). While there is no documented evidence that she is buried in the cemetery, she was likely buried either on the grounds or nearby because the town was not very big at the time of her death in 1672. We all took time to visit that gravestone and look around at the rest of the burial ground.

Taylor Galusha, Daniel Proulx, and Robert Tolan wander among the headstones.

Taylor Galusha, Daniel Proulx, and Robert Tolan wander among the headstones.

It is amazing too see how these gravestones have survived for hundreds of years in the harsh weather of New England. While some of them are illegible because the carvings have been rubbed down by the weather, but you can still read a great number of them. Another interesting thing about this gravestones were that some of them had information about other family members. One particular man’s gravestone had how his brother died on it, he drowned in a river, but not how the actual man himself died. This burial ground is not that far away from her North Andover home and could have been a place she could have seen when she went on walks the precise location of her home is also a mystery. There are many beautiful trees in the area and one of them could have been the subject of Anne’s poems.

After spending two weeks wading through archival materials, we decided to take a different approach to studying seventeenth-century life. We got together at the Writers House in the late evening to watch The Witch. Witchcraft aside, this movie is probably the most accurate portrayal of how people lived in seventeenth-century New England. It showcases how hard people had to work everyday just to get food to eat, whether that was growing crops or hunting. It illustrates how important religion was to the colonists who came over to this new world and how some of them, like Anne, longed to be back at home in England. Of course, there is a lot of witchcraft and horror, which, who knows, Anne may have caught wind of during her time in the colonial woods!

Along with meeting together and going to archives, all the fellows and professors do their own independent research. This research could be on topics such as Puritan burial practices from the 17th century to tracking down any Bradstreet descendants alive today. Stay tuned to our blog and social media for reports on what we are turning up in our research. Anne is always on our minds! We are extremely dedicated to finding were Anne is buried and our passion for it is keeping us optimistic.

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Daniel Proulx

Daniel Proulx is a Communications and Media major with a minor in English graduating with the class of 2019. He enjoys reading historical nonfiction, memoirs, and science fiction/adventure, while also being an avid movie watcher. Formerly a staff writer, Daniel is now the Associate Editor of Merrimack's newspaper, The Beacon.

Personal Loss in Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry & The Search for Her Home

Anne Bradstreet is often characterized as a staunchly Puritan poet, who wrote somewhat distantly from her own personal experiences—especially early in her career. As Adrienne Rich notes in her “Foreword” of The Works of Anne Bradstreet, “[Anne’s writing was] remarkably impersonal even by Puritan standards,” and Rich goes on to speculate that “she appears to have written by way of escaping from the conditions of her experience, rather than as an expression of what she felt and knew” (Rich).

Her later works, however, are much more personal. Written from her home in Andover, these poems address Bradstreet’s own struggles with motherhood, religiosity, and prolonged time away from her husband. A poem which I am particularly drawn to is “Upon the Burning of Our House, Jul 10th, 1666,” which was written shortly after the Bradstreet family home in North Andover burnt to the ground.  

This poem is so interesting to me because it presents a complex personal struggle, as Bradstreet reconciles the tragedy of her lost home with acceptance of God’s will. The speaker cries out “to my God my heart did cry/to strengthen me in my distress” as she seeks safety in the power of the very same God she believes was the force behind the fire. She “blest His name that gave and took,” conflicted with fear and pain, acceptance and acknowledgment. She attempts to justify the loss of her home as a necessary action taken by God, perhaps as punishment for a lifestyle that was too focused on material wealth and comfort. It is remarkable that after such a traumatic event, the beginning of the poem attempts to justify what has happened as God’s lesson.

What makes this poem different for me is the personal emotion that animates the lines in the middle. Beginning around line 27, the speaker looks around at the ashen remains of the house, reminiscing on items like a “trunk” and “chest.” She lingers among the now lost places where she would sit with her family and friends. Places where they would laugh, cry, pray, and eat. The speaker laments the loss of a house which not only held many cherished memories, but which now could never make new memories: “No pleasant tale shall e’er be told,/Nor things recounted done of old” (lines 35-36). These lines feel genuine. They are moments of human grief and longing, of a complex and sometimes conflicted emotional life.

When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie. 
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest, 
There lay that store I counted best. 
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I. 
Under thy roof no guest shall sit, 
Nor at thy Table eat a bit. 
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old. 
No Candle e'er shall shine in Thee, 
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e'er heard shall be. 
In silence ever shalt thou lie, 
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity. 

Bradstreet’s poem perhaps touches upon the innately human desire to belong and feel safe and comforted in a place which one can call a home. Even in our current day, people’s connections and relationships to their place of home remain strong and ever relevant in their lives. As a recently graduated college student who spent four years living on campus, I have felt a similar loss in my transition away from a place that I grew to call home. While the comforts of a dorm life can be at times quite lacking, it is the experiences and memories that one makes which truly defines the value of a place. I could not imagine seeing the same rooms I laughed, loved, and cried in being consumed by flames before my eyes. Bradstreet’s resolve to face such a horrific event with a positive and grateful attitude is a testament to the emotional and spiritual strength of the late writer.

I am also moved by the fact that she chose to turn her pain and loss into a poem, a form of art, which regardless of her initial intention, stands as not only a lesson in loss but a lesson in how one can choose to perceive and cope with loss. Despite whatever religious or spiritual beliefs you may have, Bradstreet’s poem represents unwavering faith and acceptance in the face of tragedy and demonstrates the belief that all experiences, both good and bad, are just and will be amended in time. This poem sheds light not only on the personal thoughts and experiences of the poet but also illustrates the importance and relevance of Anne Bradstreet’s house in her life. The fact that the burning of her house took place so close toward the end of her life had lead me to become even more curious in the affairs of the second house in Andover, and what happened to it and in it, the years following the death of Anne Bradstreet.

parson barnard house.jpg

There is evidence to suggest that the family built another home in Andover after the fire, but the precise location of Anne’s second house has long been debated. For many years, scholars believed the second Bradstreet house to be located in what is now North Andover, Massachusetts, at 179 Osgood Street. However, according to an article published in 2004, the North Andover Historical Society purchased the land in the 1950’s and discovered that the house was not built until 1715, many years after Bradstreet died. This still leaves the question, “where did Anne Bradstreet spend the remaining years of her life?” There are various books which include detailed information about the history of the second Bradstreet house. It is said that one of her sons, Dudley, inherited the house after her death when his father remarried and moved from Andover. From his hands it seemed to pass on to a Reverend William Synnes and his son, to then a John Norris (Bacon). A particularly fascinating detail was found in one of John’s wife’s diary entries, which referred to the fact that Mrs. Norris believed the house to be roughly 8 miles from Haverhill, where she would go to shop (Bailey). There is also evidence to suggest that Anne’s second Andover house was owned by Simon Putnam, who turned the home into a boarding school where he was the schoolmaster. During its new life as a school, there is evidence that two young boys engraved their autographs into one of the windows in the house (Bacon). While these specifics are fascinating in their own right—and speak to the afterlife of Bradstreet’s second home—these accounts must be taken with a grain of salt. It is still difficult to determine whether these histories relate to Bradstreet’s now-lost second home or the house on Osgood street.

Regardless, the location of the second Andover home remains an integral part of the story and legacy of Anne Bradstreet. While her grave site still remains unknown I believe that an important clue to locating her body is knowing where her final house was located. During the 17th century, it was common for people who died to be buried near their homes or their places of worship. Different records indicate that Anne could have been buried in a Parish Burying Ground near her home, some writings even defend that she could have seen the burial ground from her house (Bailey). More broadly, as “Upon the Burning of Our House, Jul 10th, 1666” teaches us, Anne’s home was deeply important to her—and learning its story can shed new light on an old life. The places where she lived and wrote are just as important as the place where she is buried, and I believe that exploring how and where she lived will help lead us to where her life ended.

Works Cited

Bacon, Edwin M. Literary Pilgrimages in New England. New York: Silver, Burdett & Company, 1902. Digital Document.

Bailey, Sarah L. Historical Sketches of Andover. Boston: Houghton, 1880. Book. "The Search for Anne Bradstreet in Essex County, MA." (2004).

Rich, Adrienne. "Anne Bradstreet and Her Poetry." Hensley, Jeannine. Anne Bradstreet: The Works of Anne Bradstreet. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010. ix-xxii. Book.


Dakota Durbin

Dakota Durbin received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Merrimack College in 2018 and began attending Salem State University the same year for his Master of Arts in Teaching English degree. Dakota is an avid reader, with interests in literature from Shakespeare to Tolkien, and loves to watch movies (particularly scary ones) and write in his free time. He has aspirations to teach high school English and wants to bring his passion and love of the arts to the next generation of students.

Following the Fellows: Week One

Our search for Anne Bradstreet is underway, and we couldn’t be more pleased to share our journey with everyone!

The start of our archival adventures took place at the Phillips Library’s new facilities in Rowley. While at the Phillips Library, we were able to examine two documents written by Anne’s husband, Simon Bradstreet, in addition to other seventeenth and eighteenth-century materials. One of the documents, an original, written in Simon’s own scratchy scrawl, pertains to the boundaries of Andover and Reading. Simon’s handwriting is extremely difficult to read, and the smudges and water damage certainly don’t help, but once we are finally able to make sense of it, it will be a great help in our endeavor.

Document of Committee of Andover, 1658. MSS 0.247.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.

Document of Committee of Andover, 1658. MSS 0.247.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.


The second document of Simon’s was his will. This document was not an original, however—but thankfully, had already been transcribed. Reading Simon’s will was incredibly eye opening. Until our trip to the Phillips Library, I did not realize just how wealthy the Bradstreet family was. Simon owned land across Massachusetts, including a small island "lying intirely betwixt the River and a certain Brook there" near Topsfield, Massachusetts. We also learned that the Bradstreet family owned slaves, which is something we had not come across before in our studies. Their names were Hannah and Bilhah, and they were willed to an Anne Bradstreet (his second wife) upon Simon’s death—but little more is known about their lives. This information may be chilling and disappointing to modern audiences, but it is crucial to shed light upon the full range of power structures and systems in which the Bradstreets were enmeshed. Far from being isolated in the American wilderness, Simon Bradstreet conducted business at home and abroad—and benefited from the transatlantic slave trade.

Keeping our archival adventures alive, this past week, half of our research team visited the North Andover Historical Society. Our visit was everything I could have hoped for, and we are all tremendously grateful for the help the North Andover Historical Society has been to us. Thanks to the North Andover Historical Society, we now have access to the most up-to-date research regarding the Bradstreet family and seventeenth-century North Andover. Carol Majahad, executive director of the North Andover Historical Society, gave us guides to seventeenth-century handwriting, which will allow us to finally transcribe the Simon Bradstreet document from the Phillips Library, and a copy of a seventeenth-century North Andover map showing where Simon Bradstreet’s land was. Finding exactly where Anne and Simon lived at the time of her death could be the key to finding her burial site.

1655 Map of Andover [Modern Approximation], North Andover Historical Society.

1655 Map of Andover [Modern Approximation], North Andover Historical Society.


Majahad also shed light on the limitations of the existing seventeenth-century archive. Though Anne Bradstreet and her husband were leading members of their community, there aren’t many written records from their, and particularly Anne’s, lives—a phenomenon that is true of other seventeenth-century figures as well. Paper was scarce and expensive in the colonies, Majahad told us. Records of some colonial officials were destroyed in King Phillip’s War and others in King William’s War. These major conflicts in seventeenth-century New England and their effect on the archive are another reminder that the Bradstreets’ lives were embroiled in the global conflicts of their day. Other seventeenth-century records have since been lost to time, neglect, and deterioration. In some ways, these documents were doomed to succumb to time—the iron gall ink used to write was very acidic, causing corrosion over the years. Knowledge of archival precarity makes the records we do encounter seem all the more special.

This upcoming week, the rest of our team will visit the North Andover Historical Society to follow up on what we have found so far, and seek out other information we may have missed on our visit.

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Isabella Connor

Isabella Connor has been fascinated by history and literature for as long as she can remember. She has worked as a tour guide at Salem’s famous House of the Seven Gables, and has a passion for bringing history to the public. Isabella also works for Merrimack College’s English department publication, The Broadsheet, and is a fiction writer on her own time.