Anne Bradstreet and Her Songs of Daily Providence

In March 1630, Anne, Simon, Thomas, and Dorothy sailed to New England on board of John Winthrop's flagship, the Arbella.

According to Cotton Mather, it was Anne who persuaded her husband to emigrate. When she arrived in Salem on June 1630, however, she was baffled by what she saw. “I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined to the church at Boston.” Much ink has been spilled over the meaning of this statement. One thing is sure. Things were drastically different in the New World.

 

Late in her life, Anne Bradstreet wrote a letter to her children, retelling her story for their “spiritual advantage” and for “the glory of God.”[1]

She started with her childhood in England, where her parents, Thomas and Dorothy Dudley, gave her an excellent education. Pious as a child, Anne was shaken out of teenage indifference when she contracted smallpox at age sixteen. Her recovery from the dreadful illness moved her to devote her life to God.

Around 1625, the Dudleys moved to Boston, England, to be under the preaching of the renowned John Cotton. It was there that Anne met Simon Bradstreet, eight years her senior, who was a friend of the family. The two married in 1628.

It was a difficult time for Puritans like the Bradstreets and Dudleys, who chafed under the religious compromises imposed by Archbishop Laud. In March 1630, Anne, Simon, Thomas, and Dorothy sailed to New England on board of John Winthrop’s flagship, the Arbella.

According to Cotton Mather, it was Anne who persuaded her husband to emigrate. When she arrived in Salem on June 1630, however, she was baffled by what she saw. “I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined to the church at Boston.”[2] Much ink has been spilled over the meaning of this statement. One thing is sure. Things were drastically different in the New World.

For one thing, the settlers still lived in poor conditions. About eighty had died the year before, and many of the survivors were weak and sickly, with supplies barely sufficient for two weeks. Rather than receiving help, the new arrivals found themselves compelled to share what little they had, until they moved away.

The Dudleys and Bradstreets continued to change residence, finally settling in Andover (Merrimack). Both Anne’s husband and father held important public offices, each serving several terms as governor of Massachusetts.

Anne’s Family Life

Anne found joy in her family life. Her marriage was a source of great joy, which she expressed in an ode to her 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.

The only initial mar to Anne and Simon’s happiness was a delay in having children, something she described as “a great grief” and occasion of “many prayers and tears”[3] But the child finally came. They called him Samuel, a fitting name for a long-expected son. Seven more followed: Dorothy, Sarah, Simon, Hannah, Mercy, Dudley, and John.

As it’s usually the case, the children brought joys and apprehensions. In 1657, when Samuel left for England, Anne expressed in rhyme both her concern and her resolution to remember he was God’s before he was hers.

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