Personal Narratives

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Personal Narratives

John Winthrop . . .219

Mary Rowlandson . . . 231

Anne Dudley Bradstreet . . . 241

Sarah Kemble Knight . . . 253

Elizabeth Ashbridge . . . 261

Benjamin Franklin . . . 271

John Adams . . . 285

American colonists had limited access to reading materials. Not only were most books still being published in Europe, but also Puritans forebade the reading of any literature except the Bible, religious poetry, and personal narratives. Although Puritans lived mainly in New England, their influence extended to the other colonies. Therefore the earliest form of American literature was autobiographical poetry, essays, and narratives in which people examined their souls and shared their experiences—much like participants in television "talk shows" today. One the best-known spiritual autobiographies was written by Puritan minister John Winthrop. Excerpts from his book, John Winthrop's Christian Experience, detail his struggle to lead a godly life. Perhaps the most popular narrative at the time was written by colonists who had been captured by Native Americans and survived to tell the tale. Mary Rowlandson 's The Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson provided a description of her time in captivity and became a best seller.

The first published American poet was Anne Dudley Bradstreet, a Massachusetts housewife, whose poems gave a vivid account of colonial life and are still being read today. Another remarkable woman was Sarah Kemble Knight, who embarked on a trip alone through the New England wilderness. The Journal of Madame Knight provides a witty description of her journey. Bradstreet and Knight were liberated women by the standards of the colonial period, partly because they had supportive husbands. But most women had to abide by laws that made them the property of their husbands. An example was New Jersey housewife and teacher Elizabeth Ashbridge, who was abused by her husband because she disobeyed him and became a Quaker. Her moving autobiography, Some Account of the Early Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge, . . . Written by Herself, is a dramatic account of this abuse.

The most acclaimed autobiography in early American literature was written by inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, who ran away from his home in Boston, Massachusetts, to seek his fortune in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is considered the model of the American self-made man. Another self-made man was John Adams, the second president of the United States, who left his family's Massachusetts farm to attend Harvard College. Excerpts from Adams's diary describe how a young man became a lawyer at a time when there were no law schools in the colonies.

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Personal Narratives

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