Colonial Readers. The first European settlers in North America depended on the Old World for reading matter, bringing with them or importing books from their mother countries. Even in New England, where a printing press was established at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1639, most books of any length came from England. Printers set up shop in Boston in 1675, Philadelphia in 1683, and New York in 1693. (A Dutch printer had been active in New Amsterdam during the 1650s.) By 1750 there were also printing presses in New London, Connecticut; Newport, Rhode Island; Annapolis, Maryland; Williamsburg, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; and at Germantown and Ephrata in Pennsylvania. Yet printing a long work required more type and equipment than most of them could muster, and until after the Revolution most books sold in America were imported. With some notable exceptions most colonial printers concentrated on government documents, almanacs, sermons, and other pamphlet-length works such as primers, political tracts, and writings on contemporary issues. Not everyone could read, though in New England by 1750 an estimated 90 percent of white males and 40 percent of white females were literate, and in the other British colonies literacy rates for white males ranged from about 35 percent to more than 50 percent. In many literate households, however, the only books might be a Bible, an almanac, and possibly a psalter. There were impressive private libraries in all the colonies, but the first libraries to which the general public had access were the subscription libraries that began springing up in the eighteenth century. The earliest were the Library Company of Philadelphia (1731); the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island (1747); the Charleston Library Society (1748); and the New York Library Society (1754). Though some wealthy readers ordered books directly from England, by 1700 booksellers in the major colonial cities had sizable stocks of imported popular books.
The Native American Oral Tradition. When the first Europeans arrived in North America, they discovered that the various tribes of Native Americans had rich traditions of stories, poems, oratory, and religious utterances, which were passed on by storytellers from generation to generation. Much of this oral literature has been lost, in part because of the gradual acculturation of Native Americans and in part because most Europeans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries considered such narratives childlike and subliterate at best, and at worst the products of brutish agents of Satan. The Jesuits of New France were among the few Europeans in the New World to be impressed with the eloquence of the Native Americans they encountered, and their yearly reports to their French superiors include accounts of how Huron, Iroquois, and other tribes delivered speeches and narrated stories and poems. The Jesuits also translated some oral performances into French. In his report for 1645-1646 Jesuit missionary Paul Ragueneau described the storytelling at a meeting of elders who gathered to elect “a very celebrated Captain.” They used the meeting to pass on tribal history by telling stories about their ancestors, “even those most remote.” Another Frenchman, Louis Hennepin, included accounts of Native American creation mythology in his 1698 account of his explorations in North America. Pointing to parallels with the Old Testament creation story, he was one of many Europeans who attempted to prove that Native Americans were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. The Puritans of New England occasionally summarized Native American stories, usually to illustrate that the Indians were deluded heathens acting as agents for the devil. Two such stories can be found in the 1736 memoir of John Gyles, commander of a garrison on the Saint George River. In one of these stories a large bird carries a boy to her nest as food for her babies, but when they refuse to eat the boy she takes him back to the place where she found him. Gyles claimed that he had been shown the site of her nest. Though some scholars have argued that all Native American oral literature ought to be viewed as poetry, others create a special category for those works that most closely resemble the European form lyric poetry. The language of these poems was highly musical, with the narrator conveying meaning not just through the words but also by how he said them. Because the beauty and meanings of these poems were so dependent on oral transmission, translation does not do them justice, especially when Europeans imposed their own conventions of rhyme and meter. European transcribers, such as Paul Le Jeune in 1634 and 1637 and Jacques Marquette in 1673, failed to capture the true quality of the poetry they had heard.
Spanish Colonial History. The earliest written New World literature came from sixteenth-century Spanish explorers who published accounts of their journeys after they returned to Spain. The first was Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, whose account of his party’s eight-year overland journey from Florida to the west coast of Mexico (1528-1535) was published in 1542. The exploration by Hernando de Soto and his men of the area that is now the southeastern United States (1539-1543) was the subject of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s colorful and popular La Florida del Inca: O historia de Adelantado Hernando de Soto (The Florida of the Inca; Or, The History of Commander Hernando de Soto, 1605), based on firsthand accounts by expedition members. In the 1560s Pedro de Casteñeda wrote about his experiences as a member of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition in the American West (1540-1542).
A New Mexico Epic. Among several other histories of expeditions is an epic poem, Historia de la Nuevo-México
(History of New Mexico, 1610), by Gaspar Pérez de Vil-lagrá, a member of the group of about six hundred colonists who had established the first Spanish settlement in the province of New Mexico in 1598. Like many other poets before and since, Villagrá tried to write a heroic poem that would rival the great epics of the ancients, consciously echoing the first line of Virgil’s Aeneid with his opening salute to Juan de Oñate, the leader of the expedition: “I sing of arms and that heroic man.” Beginning with a brief description of earlier Spanish expeditions, Villagrá wrote thirty-four cantos that include a detailed account of the events in which he took part. Although he did not succeed in creating a great epic, his poem is still consulted by historians.
The Oral Tradition of the Southwest. Much of the early literature of the Spanish colonies of the Southwest was passed on orally. Hoping to convert Native Americans as well as instruct colonists, missionaries often staged religious dramas, either versions of Spanish plays or new plays written in Mexico. Some of the songs and poems from these plays inspired traveling troubadours, who used the subjects and verse forms in original compositions of their own, sometimes religious but often secular verses about local people and events. Spanish settlers also passed on long romance poems, narratives that often had moral or religious messages. Another popular tradition was the telling of cuentos, or prose tales. Many of these traditional stories had their origins in Spanish folktales but were modified over time in the New World, while others are similar in form to Old World stories but have their origin in the New. Juan B. Rael, who collected some five hundred cuentos during the 1930s, estimated that the large majority of them were more than three hundred years old.
French Colonial History. The earliest French colonial writings were also historical, including Marc Lescarbot’s Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (History of New France, 1609-1618) and Samuel de Champlain’s accounts of his explorations (1603-1632). The Jesuits’ annual reports, Jesuit Relations, were begun by Paul Le Jeune in 1632 and continued through 1673. The most notable French colonial history to include Louisiana is Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix’s Histoire et description de la Nouvelle France avec la Journal d’un voyage fait par ordre du Roi dans Γ Amerique Septentrionale (History and Description de la Nouvelle France, with the Journal of a Voyage Made by Order of the King in Northern America, 1744).
PURITAN CAPTIVITY NARRATIVES
In a society that condemned novels, plays, and I many kinds of poetry, the Puritans found the captivity narrative a welcome relief from their typical reading matter—the Bible, sermons, and history. These exciting tales of warfare, capture, suffering, and ultimate freedom were acceptable to Puritan clergymen because they were true stories and because they could be read as sermons or as spiritual autobiographies—records of the individual soul’s struggle with God and Satan, which many ministers encouraged their congregations to write. With the common belief that Native Americans were agents of Satan or God’s means of punishing the Puritans for backsliding from performing his will, it was easy for Puritans to see the physical hardships of Indian captivity as allegorical representations of the soul’s spiritual struggles.
The first and best known of these popular narratives, Mary Rowlandson’s The Soveraignty & Goodness of God (1682) came out of the bloody King Philip’s War (1675-1676). The wife of a Puritan clergyman, Mrs. Rowlandson was captured in February 1676 from the frontier village of Lancaster, Massachusetts, during a massacre in which many neighbors and members of her family were killed. Wounded in the raid, she was ransomed eleven weeks later, after witnessing the death of her six-year-old daughter during captivity and enduring near starvation and exhaustion from forced marches under difficult circumstances.
Instigated by the French, sporadic Indian raids continued after King Philip’s War, especially in sparsely populated areas. “Quentin Stockwell’s Relation of His Captivity and Redemption,” first published in Increase Mather’s An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684), reports on Stockwell’s experiences during eight months as a prisoner taken captive during a raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, in September 1677. A ten-year-old taken prisoner during another raid on a remote outpost, John Gyles was captured in Pemaquid, Maine, in 1689 and held for six years among Indians and nearly three by the French. He, or possibly a ghostwriter, told of his adventures years later in Memoirs of Odd Adventures, Strange Deliverances, etc., in the Captivity of John Gyles, Esq. (1736).
After five years of relative peace, the outbreak of Queen Anne’s War with the French and their Native American allies in 1702 spelled fresh trouble for settlements on the New England frontier. During a raid on Deerfield in February 1704, many of the townsfolk were killed, including two sons of Reverend John Williams. In his popular narrative, The Redeemed Captive, Returning to Zion (1707), Williams recounted how he and the other survivors were forced to walk to Canada. During this long march his wife died. For nearly three years of captivity Williams struggled to win freedom for his children and his congregation while also trying to prevent them from giving in to French pressures to convert to Roman Catholicism. Despite efforts before and after his release, Williams failed to ransom his daughter Eunice, who was seven years old when they were captured. I She not only became a Catholic but also married an Indian and lived for the rest of her life among Native Americans.
Source: Alden T. Vaughan and Edward W. Clark, eds., Puritans I Among Indians: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption, 1676-1724 I (Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press, 1981).
French Colonial Poetry. Mock-heroic poems, which were popular in France during the seventeenth century, were also written in New France. René-Louis Chartier de la Lotbinière wrote a verse epic about an expedition against the Mohawk led by Rémy de Courcelle in 1666. Probably not intended for publication, this comic picture of military life seems to have been circulated widely in New France and France. Louis-Armand de Lorn d’Arce de Lahontan’s Nouveaux Voyages (New Voyages) and Dialogues, both published in 1703, poetic accounts of his travels in the New World, are fasr more satirical than Chartier de la Lotbinière’s poem in their views of the politics and society of New France. The first surviving poem written in Louisiana is Dumont de Montigny’s “Poème en vers” (Poem in Verse), a history of the province from 1716 to 1746. Written in the 1740s, it remained unpublished until 1931. As in the Spanish colonies, there was an active oral tradition in New France. When folklorists began collecting these stories and songs in the nineteenth century, some were discovered to have origins in medieval France.
The African American Oral Tradition. The first Africans were brought to Virginia as early as 1619, bringing with them a rich heritage of orally transmitted stories and folktales, some of which eventually became part of mainstream American literature. Since most slaves were not taught to read and write English, they passed on Anglicized versions of African stories orally, maintaining a strong African American folk tradition. The first African Americans to write in the English literary tradition and have their work published were poets Jupiter Hammon, whose first published poem appeared in 1760, and Phillis Wheatley, whose first poem was published seven years later, when she was only thirteen. By about 1760 African Americans were also writing autobiographical slave narratives to describe their experiences and bear witness to the inhumanity of their condition.
The Literature of New Netherland. The Dutch colonists in North America included three notable poets. Jacob Steendam wrote “The Complaint of New Amsterdam” and “The Praise of New Netherland,” poems promoting the colony as a place of abundance, minimizing hardships such as Indian attacks, characterizing New Englanders as envious swine. His promotional “Spurring-Verses” were published in Peter C. Plockhoy’s Kort en Klaer Ontwerp (Short and Clear: Antwerp; 1662), written to encourage settlement in Delaware. According to Steendam New Netherland was an Edenic land of plenty, where “birds obscure the sky,” the land is filled with wild animals, the waters are teeming with fish, and oysters “Are piled up, heap on heap, till islands they attain.” Henricus Selyns, a Dutch Reform minister in New Netherland in 1660-1664 and 1682-1701, wrote marriage poems, epitaphs for prominent colonists such as Peter Stuyvesant, punning satires, and verses in Latin. Nicasius de Sille, who held important administrative posts in the colony, also wrote poems, including “The Earth Speaks to Its Cultivator,” in which the main character is a New Adam, an image of the European in the New World that resonated throughout American literature well into the nineteenth century. The first histories by a Dutch colonist were written by lawyer Adriaen van der Donck and published in the Netherlands in 1649. His later work, A Description of the New Netherland (1655), was the first book published in New York.
Promoting the British Colonies. Though notable historians and poets were at work throughout the British
colonies, histories of their literature tend to be dominated by discussions of New England writers. Some of the earliest New World writings in English are works written to promote the colonies or record the exploits of colonial explorers. ? apt. John Smith’s A True Relation of Such Occurences and Accidents of Noate as Hath Hapned in Virginia (1608) is the first of several books he wrote about his experiences in Virginia and later New England, culminating in his self-congratulatory The true Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine John Smith (1630). Some books were written expressly to promote colonization. A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588), by Thomas Harriot, a surveyor with Sir Richard Grenville’s 1585 expedition to Virginia, had been reprinted seventeen times by 1610. New Englands Prospect (1634), by William Wood, a member of a 1629 scouting party in Massachusetts, also aroused considerable interest in England. Other influential promotional tracts for southern colonies were John Hammond’s Leah and Rachel, or The two fruitfull sisters Virginia and Mary-land (1655), George Alsop’s witty A Character of the Province of Mary-land (1666), John Lawson’s A New Voyage to Carolina (1708), Hugh Jones’s The Present State of Virginia (1724), and William Stith’s The History of the First Discovery and Settlement of Virginia (1747). Daniel Denton’s A Briefe Description of New-York (1670) attracted English settlers to the colony the Dutch had recently ceded to Great Britain, and William Penn lured settlers to his colony with Some Account of the Province of Pennsilvania (1681) and other pamphlets.
New England Historians. Early New England historians tended to focus less on events than on illustrating that God had chosen the Puritans as instruments of his will and fully supported their actions. This defense of the Puritan enterprise is apparent in seventeenth-century histories of the Massachusetts Bay Colony such as Edward Johnson’s Wonder-working Providence of Sions Saviour in New-England (1654) and Nathaniel Morton’s New Englands Memoriali (1669), as well as accounts of the Puritans’ dealings and conflicts with Native Americans, including John Winthrop’s A Declaration of the Former Passages and Proceedings Betwixt the English and the Narrowgansets (1645) and several books on the bloody King Philip’s War with the Narragansetts (1675-1676): Increase Mather’s A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians of New England (1676) and A Relation of the Troubles which Have Hapned in New-England (1677), William Hubbard’s A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England (1677), and Cotton Mather’s Duodecen-nium Luctuosum (Two Decades Full of Sorrow, 1699).
Cotton Mather. Cotton Mather’s major work, Magnalia Christi Americana (The Great Works of Christ in America, 1702), exhibits a similar slant, drawing biblical parallels in its biographies of more than sixty Puritan “saints.” The son of Reverend Increase Mather and grandson of two first-generation New England men of God, John Cotton and Richard Mather, Cotton Mather had 444 works (mostly pamphlets) separately published during his lifetime, making him probably the most published American author of all time.
Documentary History. A generation after Mather, Thomas Prince, another clergyman who believed in the Puritans’ providential mission in the New World, took a step toward modern historiography by basing A Chronological History of New-England (1736-1755) on a large collection of historical materials that he had amassed. Two of the most useful documents for modern historians of New England were not published during their authors’ lifetimes: William Bradford’s OfPlimmoth Plantation, written in 1630 and 1646-1650 and first published in 1856, and John Winthrop’s journals, written in 1630-1649 and first published in part in 1790. Another New England Puritan, Daniel Gookin, who spent more than twenty years of his life as Indian Superintendent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, attempted to counter the traditional Puritan view of Native Americans in his Historical Collections of the Indians in New England, which remained unpublished until 1792, more than one hundred years after Gookin’s death. He also took the side of the Indians in another posthumously published work, An Historical Account of the Doings and Suffering of the Christian Indians in New England in the Years 1657, 1676, 1677 (1836), written in response to Increase Mather’s and William Hubbard’s accounts of King Philip’s War.
Southern Historians. Historians in the middle and southern colonies were neither as prolific nor as unified in viewpoint as the New Englanders. In The History and Present State of Virginia (1705) Robert Beverley openly criticized several royal governors for infringing on Virginians’ personal liberties, while finding much to praise in the simple lifestyle of Native Americans. His fellow Virginian William Byrd II made a valuable and humorous contribution to the knowledge of life in the Virginia backcountry in two posthumously published accounts of his experiences as part of a group of men charged in 1728 with establishing the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina: The History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina (1841) and a shorter, saltier version, The Secret History of the Line (1929). Byrd’s sometimes X-rated diaries, which he kept in a shorthand code he invented, were deciphered and published in the twentieth century, providing fascinating glimpses of the life of a colonial Virginia gentleman. A True and Historical Narrative of the Colony of Georgia (1741), by Patrick Tailfer, Hugh Anderson, David Douglas, and others, slides into satire and anecdotal “tall tales” as they criticize James Oglethorpe’s administration, in particular for its denunciation of slavery and the rum trade.
Historians of the Middle Colonies. One early history, Good Order Established in Pennsilvania & New-Jersey (1685), was written by Thomas Budd, who successfully recommended comprehensive public education. Cadwallader Colden, who was motivated by his admiration of the Native Americans he had met and the belief that the Iroquois could play a powerful role in protecting New York against the French and their Indian allies to the north, wrote The History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New York (1727). Sometimes called the first American historian to examine the thirteen colonies as a single unit, New Yorker William Douglass wrote his ambitious A Summary, Historical and Political, of the First Planting, Progressive Improvements, and Present State of the British Settlements in North America (1747-1752) to counter the “intolerably erroneous” work of Cotton Mather and other New England historians. Subsequent historians have called Douglass’s own work sloppy and unreliable.
New England Poetry. In part because of the early establishment of printing in Cambridge, the published works of New England colonial poets far outnumber those by residents of the other British colonies. Many of the earliest New England poems are elegies written by Puritan clergymen (often for other clergymen) or brief verses about months and seasons in almanacs. Puritans were also fond of creating anagrams from people’s names and then using them as the starting points for poems. For example, Reverend John Wilson turned Claudius Gilbert into “Tis Braul I Cudgel” and then wrote a poem about the “brawling” of the Quakers and other dissenters and how God “cudgeled” them with his holy word. Wilson was so fond of making anagrams that his good friend and fellow clergyman Nathaniel Ward of Agawam, Massachusetts, wrote a humorous poem about him:
We poor Agawams
are so stiff in the hams
that we cannot make Anagrams,
But Mr John Wilson
the great Epigrammist
Can let out an Anagram
even as he list.
The Bay Psalm Book. The first book published in Cambridge, The Whole Booke of Psalmes (1640), or The Bay Psalm Book, includes some of the Puritans’ earliest poetic efforts. With the help of other Puritan divines, clergymen Thomas Welde, John Eliot, and Richard Mather paraphrased the Psalms so that they could be sung to traditional hymn tunes. Disapproving of other paraphrases because they were not always accurate translations, they went back to the original Hebrew to produce a “plaine translation,” aiming for “fidelity rather than poetry.” Most modern readers believe they succeeded. For example, in their hands the opening lines of the Twenty-third Psalm—“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want”—became “The Lord to mee a shepherd is, want therefore shall not I.” Whatever its literary merits, The Bay Psalm Book could be found in many New England homes and went through twenty-five editions. By the mid eighteenth century it had been largely replaced by the more aesthetically pleasing hymns of Isaac Watts and John and Charles Wesley.
The Simple Cobbler. Not all Puritan pastors were humorless even when, like Nathaniel Ward, they were employing verse to forecast the imminent end of the world and to plead with their flocks to mend their ways. In The Simple Cobbler of Aggawam in America (1647) Ward used puns and coined new words in his pleas for English society in the Old World and the New to cease its divisive behavior and agree on mutual accommodation. He expressed his deepest distrust of theological debate, explaining that the devil “cannot sting the vitals of the Elect morally,” but he can “fly-blow their Intellectuals miserably.” Ward’s singsong couplets can often be unintentionally laughable as well, but at their best they make his point in memorable style:
The world’s a well strung fiddle, mans tongue the quill,
That fills the world with fumble for want of skill,
When things and words in tune and tone doe meet,
The universali song goes smooth and sweet.
The First American Woman Poet. Ward, who was a misogynist even by the standards of his own day, wrote a dedicatory poem for the first book by an American woman, Anne Bradstreet’s anonymously published The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650). Modern readers admire Bradstreet’s love poems, including “To
my Dear and Loving Husband,” which begins with the memorable lines:
If ever two were one, then surely we
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man
Compare with me ye women if you can.
Yet her contemporaries admired her philosophical and religious poems, marveling at the extent of her knowledge and the quality of her verse. Ward was not alone in his sentiments when he grudgingly wrote, “It half revives my chil frost-bitten blood, To see a Woman once, do ought that’s good.”
The First Best-Seller. Seventeenth-century New Englanders read Bradstreet’s poetry, especially after her husband had an enlarged edition of her book published in Boston, again anonymously, in 1678. Yet the poet whose name was a household word in Puritan families was Michael Wigglesworth, a clergyman whose book The Day of Doom (1662) has been called the first American best-seller. The Day of Doom had gone through seven editions by 1751, and the sixth edition of his popular second book, Meat Out of the Eater (1670), was published in 1721. These books were so often read and reread that no copies of the first edition of either have survived. Wigglesworth’s sermons in verse have not worn well with later generations, but his contemporaries admired and heeded his warnings about the hellfires that awaited “whining hypocrites,” “Idolaters, false worshippers, / Prophaners of Gods Name,” “Blasphemers lewd, and Swearers, shrewd, I Scoffers at Purity,” “Sabbath-polluters, Saints persecuters, I Presumptuous men and proud”—and a whole array of other sinners bound for eternal damnation.
The Metaphysical Poet of New England. The only verses by Edward Taylor that appeared in print during his lifetime were two stanzas from his “Upon Wedlock and Death of Children” (written in 1682 or 1683), which Cotton Mather included in his Right Thoughts in Sad Hours (1689). While he is believed to have read a few of his poems to his congregation in Westfield, Massachusetts, Taylor was virtually unknown until scholars discovered the manuscripts for his poems and published them in the twentieth century. Yet today he is considered a major American poet, and his more than two hundred Poetical Meditations (written 1682-1725) have been called the most important poetic achievements of colonial America. The best of these poems, which Taylor wrote as preparations for administering the Lord’s Supper (the Puritans’ term for Communion), have been compared favorably to poems by the Metaphysical poets of England, including John Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Crashaw. While Taylor accepted the stern religious beliefs of his fellow Puritans, including Wiggles-worth’s convictions about eternal damnation, he often focused on God’s grace and the experience of religious ecstasy:
God is Gone up with a triumphant Shout
The Lord with sounding Trumpets melodies.
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphickwise.
Lift up your Heads ye lasting Doore they sing
And let the King of Glory Enter in.
Cosmopolitan Bostonians. By the eighteenth century literary tastes were becoming more secular throughout the colonies, as prosperity gave Americans the opportunity to learn about the latest cultural trends in London through imported books, magazines, and engravings. The change became apparent even in New England, where Boston clergyman Mather Byles, nephew of Cotton Mather, wrote sermons that are more notable for their polished prose than for their theological insights and poems that are known less for their content than for their stylistic imitations of Alexander Pope and other eighteenth-century British poets. Unlike his predecessor Wigglesworth’s poetic efforts, “The Conflagration” (1729), Byles’s description of the day of doom, seems unlikely to have inspired many sinners to repent. In his later years Byles became known as a wit. “Punning Byles invokes our smiles,” wrote poet Thomas Morton Jones in 1774. Another eighteenth-century Boston poet, Joseph Green, wrote humorous verses that poked fun at prominent people and public events, including “A Parody on a Hymn by Mather Byles” (1733) and his most popular work, Entertainment for a Winter’s Evening (1750), a satire on the Freemasons with references to actual people.
Poets of the Middle Colonies. Little verse by New Yorkers survives from the colonial period after the Dutch ceded New Netherland to the British. Jupiter Hammon and William Livingston emerged during the second half of the eighteenth century, but only Richard Steere, who is considered the first poet of Long Island, achieved any recognition for his poetic efforts before the Revolution. A Puritan who settled in Southold, on eastern Long Island, in 1710, Steere had fled to Boston in 1682-1683, after his anti-Tory verses angered British authorities, and then to Southold, after he ran afoul of Puritan authorities for voicing unorthodox religious views. The poems he collected in The Daniel Catcher (1713) include some of the earliest examples of American nature poetry and what is probably the first American poem in blank verse. In Philadelphia James Logan, secretary to William Penn, wrote original poems in Latin and Greek and two verse translations from the Latin, Cato’s Moral Distiches Englished in Couplets (1735) and M. T. Cicero’s Cato Major (1744).
Southern Poets. The first published poet to live in Virginia was George Sandys, who was established as a literary figure in England by the time he arrived in the New World in 1621. Before he left Virginia in 1625 he had completed the translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses that he published in London on his return. Sandys’s time in Virginia was brief, and his poetry does not deal with his experiences there. Ebenezer Cook, a lawyer who wrote satiric verse on life in colonial Maryland, has been called the father of traditional Southern humor writing. Cook’s best-known poem is The Sot-Weed Factor (1708), about an English tobacco merchant (or sot-weed factor) who is cheated of all his possessions by a series of Maryland colonists. Cook’s burlesque of a land “where no Man’s Faithful, nor a Woman Chast” also makes fun of Englishmen who expected to get rich fast in a New World Eden. Another Marylander, Richard Lewis, has been called the foremost American nature poet before Philip Freneau. In poems such as “A Journey from Patapsco to Annapolis” (1731) he wrote vivid descriptions based on careful observations, as in this description of a hummingbird:
He takes with rapid Whirl his noisy Flight,
His gemmy Plummage strikes the Gazer’s Sight
And as he moves his ever-flutt’ring Wings,
Ten thousand Colours he around him flings.
Jacob Ernest Cooke, ed., Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies, volume 3 (New York: Scribners, 1993);
Emory Elliott, ed., American Colonial Writers, 1606-1734, Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 24 (Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark / Detroit: Gale Research, 1984);
Elliott, ed., American Colonial Writers, 1735-1781, Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 31 (Columbia, S.C.: Bruccoli Clark / Detroit: Gale Research, 1984);
Harold S. Jantz, The First Century of New England Verse (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1944);
Kenneth Silverman, ed., Colonial American Poetry (New York & London: Hafner, 1968).
"1600-1754: Literature." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/1600-1754-literature
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