Poetry Landmark: The Search for Anne Bradstreet in Essex County, MA
Though there are numerous documents and portraits of her husband and father, Anne Bradstreet left only her poems behind. There is no tattered journal, no marble bust, not even a headstone. Yet, the search for locations relating to one of America's first poets is a sacred one, tracing not only the beginnings of American poetry, but the history of the country itself.
Born as Anne Dudley in 1612 to a well-educated family in England, she married Simon Bradstreet at age sixteen. Two years later, in 1630, Bradstreet immigrated to New England with her husband and family traveling on the Arabella with one of the earliest groups of Puritans. The Bradstreets initially lived in Salem then Cambridge, eventually settling in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Her husband and father quickly became involved in the local governance of the Boston settlement—Dudley became Deputy-Governor and Bradstreet took the role of Chief-Administrator.
While living in Cambridge, they lived in a cabin in the heart of Harvard Square, and a house on Massachusetts Avenue, the site of which is marked by the Cambridge Historical Commission's blue oval marker at 1380 Massachusetts Avenue.
While in Ipswich, her husband was frequently away, and Bradstreet was left to care for their eight children and contend with the tribulations of early settlement life. It was during this time that she also began writing. In her poem "A Letter to her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment," Bradstreet pleads, "If two be one, as surely thou and I, / How stayest there, whilst I in Ipswich lie?"
Bradstreet's work was secretly compiled by her brother-in-law and published in England in 1650 under the title The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America. She was distressed by the publication, and updated it a few years later, with a poem of apology for its original publication: "The Author to Her Book." Bradstreet let no more of her work be published; only circulating later work among friends and family. Her most highly regarded work was written later in life and published posthumously.
In 1645, her family moved to North Andover (then called Andover). Though there is no record of where exactly they lived, many believe their home was on property attached to the Phillips Manse, a yellow mansion at 168 Osgood Street. Across the street, at 179 Osgood, stands a house still commonly referred to as the "Bradstreet House"; however, after the North Andover Historical Society purchased the house in the 1950s, they discovered it was not built until 1715, long after Bradstreet's death. Even if her address was known, the building would surely be gone; in 1666, Bradstreet's North Andover home burned down, prompting her to write one of her most well-known poems "Verses Upon the Burning of our House."
Bradstreet struggled with poor health for much of her life; she survived smallpox at a young age, but eventually contracted tuberculosis and died in 1672. The location of her grave remains under contention. The tradition in Bradstreet's time was for Puritan women to be buried in unmarked graves, alongside their husbands. Therefore, the logical place to look is her husband's final resting place. Simon Bradstreet's grave is among the maze of seventeenth century headstones in the North Point Burying Ground in Salem. Though many of her descendants believe she was laid to rest alongside her husband, he died after her, in 1697, making it unlikely that their bones were mingled together. To confuse matters, Simon Bradstreet's second wife was also named Anne; it is likely that the second Anne Bradstreet is the one buried beside him.
The North Andover Historical Society is almost certain that Bradstreet's remains lie in the Old Burying Ground on Academy Road in North Andover, not far from where she lived at the time of her death. They possess a document from the overseeing minister which records: "Anne Bradstreet died. She was buried three days later," making North Andover the most likely place for her burial. In 2000, on the anniversary of her death and the 350th anniversary of her first publication, the Historical Society, along with the town's Historic Commission, placed a monument to Bradstreet in the Old Burying Ground. The small stone marker was made to match the bed-shaped seventeenth-century headstones that surround it, and inscribed with a scroll and feather pen, and a few lines from the eulogy read by Reverend John Norton in 1672: "Mirror of Her Age, Glory of her Sex, whose Heaven-born-Soul leaving its earthly Shrine, chose its native home, and was take to its Rest."
Photo courtesy of CmdrMark.com.