Turell, Jane (1708–1735)

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Turell, Jane (1708–1735)

American poet. Born Jane Colman on February 25, 1708, in Boston, Massachusetts; died on March 26, 1735, in Medford, Massachusetts; daughter of Benjamin Colman (a pastor) and Jane (Clark) Colman; married Ebenezer Turell (a pastor), on August 11, 1726; children: three who died in infancy, and Samuel (who died in childhood).

Jane Turell was born in Boston in 1708, the oldest daughter and the second of three children of Benjamin and Jane Clark Colman . Her mother came from a wealthy Boston family, and her father was a pastor of the Church on Brattle Street. Known for his liberal views in church, at home he was a strict disciplinarian, filled with religious zeal and concern about his children's religious education. Jane was a physically frail child, but by the time she was two years old, she knew the alphabet and could speak clearly and relate many Bible stories to her father's satisfaction, as well as that of distinguished visitors such as Governor Joseph Dudley and what her father called "other Wise and Polite Gentlemen." Ola Elizabeth Winslow noted that this intensely religious upbringing "provides a key to understanding her limitations as a poet. She was a pulpit example almost from birth."

By the time she was four, Turell knew by heart most of the Assembly's catechism, many psalms, and several hundred lines of poetry, and could read aloud clearly and comment intelligently on what she had read. Her father taught her daily and counseled her to be aware of sin but to keep focused on godliness. Her mother augmented this teaching with similar spiritual advice and by praying with her. At age 11, Turell composed her first hymn, then went on to compose her own rhymed paraphrases of the psalms, as well as reverent meditations and prayers. By the time she was 18, she had exhausted the contents of her father's library.

In 1726, she married Ebenezer Turell, a young minister who had studied with her father. He had become a pastor in Medford, Massachusetts, two years earlier, and the couple moved there after their marriage. Jane continued to write to her father, who remained her mentor and spiritual advisor for the rest of her life. Although she occasionally wrote of her own down-to-earth life and of humble subjects, most of her poetry imitated the classics or the English poets, with lines about nightingales, "fragrant Zephyrs," and temples.

Turell's health, always frail, failed her at an early age. She died in Medford when she was 27 and was buried in the Salem Street Cemetery. In her short life, she had given birth to four children, three of whom died in infancy. The fourth, Samuel, lived only 18 months after his mother's death, dying at age six. After Turell's death, her husband published a biography of her, Reliquiae Turellae et Lachrymae Paternal, which includes several of her poems, letters, diary entries, and essays.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Winslow, Ola Elizabeth. "Jane Turell," in Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Ed. by Edward T. James. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer