THE BEGINNINGS OF AMERICAN LITERATURE (1620 – 1836)



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THE BEGINNINGS OF AMERICAN LITERATURE (1620 – 1836)



1. Study the following biographies and speak about each person's contribution to American letters.

Biography 1

John Smith (1579?-1631)

 

He was an English colonizer in North America who helped establish Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement. Smith was born in Willoughby, Lincolnshire. He worked on his father's farm until he left home as a teenager and became a soldier. His military adventures led him through Europe and eventually to Hungary, where he fought against invading Turks. In 1601 Turks captured Smith and sold him into slavery, from which he later escaped.

By 1604 Smith had returned to England, where he became a member of the London Company's colony council. In December 1606, Smith and the rest of the colonial expedition set sail for America. During the voyage he was accused of conspiracy, although the charges against him were dropped. Smith was one of seven men chosen to be on the governing Council of Virginia by the London Company. He was not formally sworn in as Councillor until June 1607.

The expedition founded the settlement named Jamestown in May 1607. The colonists fared badly, suffering from famine, disease, and attacks by the natives. In December 1607 George Kendall, the leader of the council of Jamestown, was shot for mutiny. Smith was chosen president of the colony in 1608. Smith insisted that all the colonists work, declaring: “He that will not work shall not eat, except by sickness he be disabled.” The colony survived, but Smith's strict leadership resulted in uneasy relations with some of the colonizers, especially members of the gentry who were not used to hard labor.

Smith organized trade with the Native Americans and led expeditions to explore and map the region surrounding Jamestown. On one of these expeditions he was captured by the Native American chief Powhatan, and, according to his account in a book he published in 1624, he was saved from being put to death by the chief's daughter, Pocahontas. This adventure has become part of American folklore. However, most historians do not believe this story; they note that Smith did not mention Pocahontas as having anything to do with his release in a document he wrote detailing the colony's experiences in its first year. Although his courageous and resourceful leadership is credited with having carried the colony through its first two years, his treatment of the local Native Americans was harsh. Smith was president of the Jamestown colony from 1608 to 1609, when he returned to England after being badly burned in an accident. In 1614 he returned to America and led an expedition that explored and mapped the coast of New England, which he named. He returned to England with valuable furs and fish. Once back in England, Smith was a prolific writer and an ardent supporter of English colonization in America.

Biography 2

Anne Bradstreet (1612?-1672)

 

She is an American poet, born in Northampton, England. She was a daughter of Thomas Dudley, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and in 1628 she married Simon Bradstreet, who later became governor of the colony. A housewife with eight children, she was also the first important poet in the American colonies. Her poems were published in 1650 as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, which is generally considered the first book of original poetry written in colonial America. Through it she asserted the right of women to learning and expression of thought. Although some of Bradstreet's verse is conventional, much of it is direct and shows sensitivity to beauty.

Bradstreet's most deeply felt poetry concerns the arduous life of the early settlers, and her work provides an excellent view of the difficulties she and her fellow colonists encountered. She wrote several poems in response to the early deaths of her grandchildren, and her “Contemplations” (1678) explores her place in the natural world. Bradstreet also used her poetry to examine her religious struggles; she was unable to embrace Calvinism completely. “The Flesh and the Spirit” (1678) describes the conflict she felt between living a pleasant life and living a Christian life, and “Meditations Divine and Moral” (written 1664; published 1867) recounts to her children her doubts about Puritanism. Although Bradstreet addressed broad and universal themes, she is remembered best for her body of evocative poems that provide intimate glimpses into the home life of inhabitants of colonial New England.

 
 


Biography 3



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