Colonialism and Puritan Mindset in Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry
It is difficult to fathom going into someone’s home and not being a gracious guest. It is more incredulous to consider how, even if that standard of gratitude is not met, the homeowner would be treated as the interloper. So if you know the history of Native American treatment in the United States (or what would be become this new nation), it would be near impossible to not presume better angels influenced at least some of the decision-makers in the early days of our country’s settlement. But despite the best intentions and thoughtful efforts of a handful of colonial leaders, regard for the Carolinas’ largest indigenous population – the Cherokee – ultimately followed a more systematic, notorious fate: mistreatment, displacement, and disease. At the beginning of the 18th century, Cherokee land included western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia, Alabama, and southwestern Virginia. By this time, many colonial English settlements had begun trading with the Cherokee as a result of the amount of natural resources their territory provided (“Native Americans of North Carolina” History of American Women). With over 800 species of plants used for a variety of different goods, a vast selection of trees used for twine, weaving fibers, fuel, and medicinal bark, and a multitude of animals for food, clothing, medicine, and shelter, this area became heavily populated between English traders and the Cherokee alike. Eventually, the Cherokee Treaty was formed with the Governor of the Carolinas in 1785, and was the first concession of land (“Native Americans of North Carolina” History of American Women).
All was going well between the colonists and Cherokee tribe, until the French and Indian War. The Cherokee joined the British and colonists in the fight against France, but when some of the Cherokee were killed by settlers from Virginia, the Cherokee tribe began attacking and fighting white settlements. This fight eventually came to a close in 1761 when the Cherokee were defeated and made peace. In exchange for this peace, the British agreed that no white settlements would be allowed west of the Appalachian Mountains, but greedy English settlers neglected this promise and persisted to settle on Cherokee territory (Claggett, “First Immigrants: Native American Settlement of North Carolina”). The Cherokee shared so much of what they knew of the land, and for a time, they were supported in their way of life. But greed and a sense of entitlement led settlers to take advantage of the Cherokee and exploit all that they’d learned from them. Following the continued white settlement on Cherokee land, the Cherokee still tried to maintain border control and peace by creating treaties with the growing American government. In 1777, they agreed to give up their land East of what is now Greenville and Kingsport, Tennessee (“Native American History in North Carolina” Documenting the American South).
Unfortunately, only a few years later, British settlers invaded their land once again by moving west to the Pigeon River, located well within Cherokee territory. Soon after, William Blount, governor of the Cherokee territory, signed the treaty of Holston, which enacted an increased annuity for the Cherokees in exchange for land in addition to other considerations, such as an advanced warning of attacks by other Native American nations (“Native American History in North Carolina” Documenting the American South). By the time of the American Revolution, the white populations of South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama immensely outnumbered the Native Americans, and eventually, those newly established states forced the Southeastern Native Americans into exile. The governments of those states eventually urged the tribesmen to be removed to the west regions (“Native Americans of North Carolina” History of American Women). So, once again, the ultimate fate of the Cherokee was that they were treated like outsiders, rather than those who inhabited the land first. In the mid-16th Century, more than one-hundred thousand Native Americans were living in present-day North Carolina. As the first permanent European settlers arrived in 1800, that number decreased to about twenty thousand by virtue of diseases that the Europeans brought across the Atlantic, such as small pox, influenza, and measles. While the Europeans had developed an immunity to these diseases, the Native Americans hadn’t ever encountered them, so they had no resistance. A clear example of this phenomenon occurred during a 500-mile, two-month trek to the Carolina backcountry.
A small group of Native Americans, including Cherokee, and Englishmen began this journey in Charles Town, then headed up toward present-day Hillsborough, North Carolina. In February 1701, they eventually reached the Bath on the Pamlico Sound, but not all of the expeditionists made it that far. John Lawson, one of the Englishmen, wrote about the massacre of Native Americans as a result of the epidemics of diseases to which they were susceptible. Without access to the same medical care as the settlers, the Cherokee became an aging, ill, declining community. This fate was regarded largely as a “natural selection” phenomenon among the white settlers. The irony that they had largely contributed to it was either ignored or lost on them. The Colonial Period was a time when the Cherokee faced conspicuous injustice in the Carolinas. This situation was not unique to them; it was one they shared with their indigenous brothers and sisters across the continent. They were bombarded with mistreatment from the English settlers, shoved out of their homeland and forced to give up their territory, and killed by the diseases the settlers brought with them. It would be very satisfying to say that Native Americans no longer have to encounter such social atrocities, but unfortunately, too much lingers. A smattering of state and national leaders have accepted the mantle to advocate for Native Americans, seeking more consistently applied constitutional rights today and amending for past treatment, but it continues to be an arduous climb for many Carolina Cherokees to remain authentic in their culture and honor their history as they make their way in the modern world.
The Puritan period was a sophisticated collection of highly religious individuals and intellectual writing that shaped the course of our country. Some of the many concerns and conditions were Puritan writing, God and the spiritual dangers that the soul faced on Earth, and the literary stylistic attributes of that time. Examples of writings from that period include “To My Dear and Loving Husband” (Bradstreet 1678) and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (Edwards 1741). These pieces directly correlate with the concerns and conditions of the time period and also contribute to the literary stylistic choices of the Puritan period. Concerns and conditions of the Puritan time period are introduced with religion. Religion played a key aspect in Puritan lives and writing which in turn contributed to the Puritan lifestyle. “To my dear and loving Husband” (Bradstreet 1678) by Anne Bradstreet is a highly religious and perilous piece of poetry in many ways. The main idea of Bradstreet’s poem is to express her love and affection towards her husband. “A curious knot God made in Paradise…. It was the true-love knot, more sweet than spice” (Taylor). This piece of evidence correlates to the overall theme of love in Bradstreet’s poem that Puritan writing was highly religious. Love in this time period was highly believed to be one of God’s gifts to humanity, therefore being one of the driving causes of Puritan literature. Anne Bradstreet’s poem was perilous in many ways. One of the ways was that women weren’t taken seriously. “The Puritans, like many societies in this time period, believed that women were culturally inferior to men. Married women were expected to follow the commands of their husbands and were unable to interact with local government on their own” (Deering 2018).
Bradstreet’s poem “To my dear and loving Husband” (Bradstreet 1678) was Llanes 2 meant for her husband solely, meaning that public eyes weren’t presumed to see it. One of the concerns in this period is that women are suppressed and cannot do the same things that men can. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (Edwards 1741) is included in the highly religious environment the Puritans lived in and contributed to the concerns of the time period. God was the most powerful and most fearful being in that time which means it instilled great fear in the people when Jonathan Edwards angrily emphasized the wrath that God can have “on the wicked unbelieving Israelites” (Edwards). “The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow of your heart, and strains the bow…” (Edwards) This sermon from Edwards is instilling fear in the people by warning them of God’s consequence if you do not serve him properly. Edwards preferred using figurative language in his sermons, making it feasible that he used it for emphasis. “That they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction.
As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall” (Edwards). This line is instilling anxiety to the people who rely on this religion every single day, therefore, making it a concern in Puritan times. Many would find it a very frightening situation knowing God can send you to damnation without a warning. Another concern in Puritan society is that “Puritans could not know strictly who could go to heaven” (Groningen). As a result of this, “Earthly success makes them a sign of election” (Groningen) and “Wealth and status was not only for themselves but for eternal success” (Groningen). The concern of God’s might and wrath directly translated to the Puritans living to gather as much wealth, success, and overall well-being, which is a condition. Concerns and conditions are intertwined and play a crucial role in Puritan understanding. Llanes 3 To understand the full concept of Puritan society, one must look at Puritan writing. The writings “To My Dear and Loving Husband” (Bradstreet 1678) and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (Edwards 1741) have literary stylistic attributes from the Puritan time period. One is Puritan Plain Style, which “is a type of writing in which uncomplicated sentences and ordinary words are used to make simple, direct statements. This style was favored by the Puritans who wanted to express themselves clearly, in accordance with their religious beliefs” (Fanning, Makenna et. al. 2015).
Anne Bradstreet used this type of writing in pieces such as “To My Dear and Loving Husband” (Bradstreet 1678) and “Verses upon the Burning of our House” (Bradstreet 1666). “In Anne Bradstreet’s ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’, the author demonstrates Puritan Plain Style through the inversion in her syntax, and her expression of the bond between life on earth and in heaven” (Fanning, Makenna et. al. 2015). Bradstreet uses this writing style in unmediated and uncomplicated ways which is one of the main principles of religion. Another reason that Puritan writing needed to be simple is the fear of misconstruing. Quite literally, religion doesn’t want to be twisted and turned and wants to be kept at its literal meaning, just like Puritan Plain Style. Another literary stylistic attribute is Edwards’ use of figurative writing such as imagery, personification, metaphors, and many more. “…if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into a bottomless gulf…” (Edwards). This is a clear example of imagery that Edwards used to further emphasize the wrath of God. “…your own care and prudence …would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of Hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a fallen rock” (Edwards). This section of the piece that Llanes 4 Edward wrote has a simile which explains that there isn’t an influence to uphold you or send you to Hell even if you care greatly about your health. Figurative language is powerful in many ways such as giving the reader a mental picture, further instilling fear in the Puritans.
Another key concept is to know the themes in which the texts were related to such as success is a heavenly bliss and life was seen as a test; failure led to eternal damnation and hellfire. In Bradstreet’s poem, success with her husband led to heaven and to live eternally with his loved one. In Edwards’ sermon, life was ultimately seen as a test of faith and a test of commitments of God. Failure would lead to Hell and God sending you to eternal damnation. These pieces as demonstrated show how the Puritans lived, and the problems concerning Puritan society among other things such as theme and attributions. Puritan writing is sometimes seen simple and straightforward but there are underlying themes, comprehension, and many other components that make Puritans highly intellectual. Puritans ultimately influenced our capitalist system today. Both resting on hard work and success, the Puritans gave our country the foundation of capitalist ideologies which ultimately changed the country. Puritans are important to our understanding of literature and our understanding of religion and the impacts that surround it. Anne Bradstreet and Jonathan Edwards are related in the sense that religion and Puritanism are connected. Puritanism has influenced religion and our modern world today which makes it a significant time period in the course of our country.
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