This essay was written by Bradstreet biographer Charlotte Gordon. It first appeared in Harvard Magazine, May/June, 2005.
Anne Bradstreet's poem "To My Dear and Loving Husband," a favorite at weddings, is one of the most anthologized examples of early American verse. But few realize its author was also an extraordinarily courageous woman whose spirit and faith helped shape the America we know today.
Bradstreet was only 18 when she arrived in Salem harbor in 1630 on the Arbella. She had been reluctant to say goodbye to her elegant home in England, but her husband, Simon, and stern father, Thomas Dudley, were determined to leave a country whose government was increasingly hostile to critics of the Anglican Church. Later in life, when she wrote that her "heart rose" as she set foot in America, she meant not that she rejoiced, but that she retched.
Not surprisingly, she was horrified by the harshness of the New World: the "hungry wolves," "stormy rains," and "rugged stones" that she would one day describe in her poetry. Few Englishmen, and even fewer Englishwomen, had ventured to America. When the Arbella's party disembarked, they discovered that the little band of settlers sent to Salem the year before to prepare for the rest of the colonists had been almost obliterated by disease and starvation. The leaders of Bradstreet's group, including her father, husband, and the colony's future governor, John Winthrop, took one look at the miserable little settlement and headed south.