When the Editor of the Andover 104 Stories asked me to write about Anne Dudley Bradstreet, I knew I had a difficult task before me. So much has been written about her poetry and her life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, what could I add?
Then, during a moment of inspiration (desperation) I decided to go on a hunt through the Andovers for objects by and about our famous local daughter and poetess.
The first object I found is in Andover, located at the Park on Chestnut Street. By the entrance from the street sits a bench with the following words inscribed:
Anne Dudley Bradstreet, 1612-1672
Early Andover Resident
America's First English Speaking Poet
When I first saw the bench, I wondered how many people have paused at this spot to think about Anne Bradstreet's life and work. We live in the "Valley of the Poets," so dubbed in part because Mistress Bradstreet lived here with her husband Simon Bradstreet from 1646 to 1672.
Anne came to the New World in 1630 during the Great Migration from England. She arrived with her family as a member of Puritan society and became, in her own way, a modern woman.
During her time in Andover, Anne Bradstreet fulfilled the traditional Puritan female role of wife, mother and keeper of hearth and home. Her husband, Simon Bradstreet, was ambitious and politically important in the new colony, spending a great deal of time away from home and leaving Anne to run their homestead.
While certainly busy taking care of household duties, Anne also found time to devote to her writings and poetry. Well educated by her father in the Puritan tradition, Anne could not only read but, unlike most women of the time, she could write. In addition, her father also taught her to compose verse.
These gifts are exemplified in the next object I found on my hunt: an original manuscript in the hand of Anne Bradstreet entitled "Meditations Divine and Morall," now owned by the Trustees of the Stevens Memorial Library in North Andover.
The manuscript is currently housed at Harvard University's Houghton Library. Just recently, Harvard has been able to make a color digitized copy of the manuscript which can be viewed in book form at the Stevens Memorial Library and online at the Harvard University Library website.
If you visit the Stevens Memorial Library, take some time to visit its "Poet's Corner." There you will see numerous artifacts about Anne Bradstreet, including a 1650 first edition of Anne Bradstreet's only published work, The Tenth Muse.
The last object I found in my hunt for Mistress Bradstreet is her memorial stone erected in the First Burial Ground, now located on Academy Road in North Andover. In 2000, on the anniversary of Anne Bradstreet's death and the 350th anniversary of her first publication, the North Andover Historical Society and the town Historic Commission placed a monument to the poet here.
No known original headstone exists for Anne Bradstreet. However, a document in the Historical Society Collection from the overseeing minster records: "Anne Bradstreet died. She was buried three days later." This document, in conjunction with burial customs of the time, leads the North Andover Historical Society to be almost certain that Bradstreet's remains are located in the First Burial Ground in North Andover.
The year 2012 will mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of Anne Bradstreet. In honor of her birth, the Stevens Memorial Library, in conjunction with the North Andover Historical Society, the North Parish Church and Merrimack College, will hold a year long celebration of the life and works of this complex woman who once lived in Andover.
"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, told to celebrate the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.