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Women in Church History: Anne Bradstreet

(1612–1672) America’s First Published Poet

Women in Church History

Anne Bradstreet, one of the earliest American colonists, was both the daughter and wife of Massachusetts governors, and she became the mother of eight children. Her poems reveal a well-educated woman who avidly observed the natural world, delighted in her husband and children, and above all gloried in Christ. Her poems were first published in England in 1650, in a volume titled The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America. Often, she wrote in order to deal with the anxiety of her husband’s frequent travels back to England, to cope with family tragedy ( as in “Upon the Burning of Our House”), and especially in order to consider God’s mercies. The latter, in fact, could be considered the overarching theme of Anne’s work—both in poems and in other writings—and the one she was most eager to commend to future generations. 

A letter survives which Anne wrote to her children in hopes of conveying something about her life—not primarily a biography, but a relation of God’s dealings with her soul—in the event that she couldn’t speak to them on her deathbed. She begins the account from age 6 or 7, at which age she remembers first developing a consciousness of sin. As Anne grew up, she learned to seek God in the midst of hardships she experienced. For example, around age 16, she fell deathly ill with smallpox, and in this affliction she “besought the Lord and confessed my pride and vanity, and He […] again restored me.” Not long after this, Anne married, moved to the American colonies in 1630, and joined the church at Boston. In one of the most touching points of her narrative, she writes that “It pleased God to keep me a long time without a child, which was a great grief to me.” After God granted her children, she still bore “great pains, weakness, cares, and fears.” “I now travail in birth again of you,” she tells her children, “till Christ be formed in you.” The reference is to Galatians 4:19, where Paul refers to “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth.” Such evidence of Anne’s biblically saturated mind is ubiquitous in her writing, as is her longing for her children’s salvation and maturity in Christ.

As Anne appeared to deal with frequent illness, seeking God’s face in suffering is a constant refrain in the letter and in many of her poems (like the one included here). It’s not that Anne assumes every sickness or affliction corresponds to some clear cause, sinful or otherwise, in her life. Rather, any and every affliction provides an opportunity for her to seek the Lord anew. This became such a pattern in her life that, in her late years, she was able to look back and see that such “have been the times of my greatest getting and advantage; yea, I have found them the times when the Lord hath manifested the most love to me.” She encourages her children to take such times of chastening as mercies to be received with thankfulness. Remarkably, she also devotes a portion of her letter to telling her children of spiritual doubts: “Many times hath Satan troubled me concerning the verity of the Scriptures,” and even whether she could be certain of God’s existence, the doctrine of the Trinity, or whether her own church taught the true faith and not, for instance, the Roman Catholic church. She is honest about the fact that she wrestled with such questions throughout her life, but also that she was repeatedly driven back to the Scriptures, finding Christ there and ultimately being assured that He alone was her rest: “I know whom I have trusted, and whom I have believed.” Always, Anne’s writing shows evidence of a hungering, yearning faith that’s well acquainted with struggle, yet looks beyond itself for its strength.

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 web’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.

Sarah White
(PCA member residing in PA)

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