Martha Wadsworth Brewster

Martha Wadsworth Brewster (April 1, 1710 – c. 1757) was an 18th-century American poet and writer. She is one of only four colonial women who published volumes of their verse before the American Revolution and was the first American-born woman to publish under her own name.[1][2]

Martha Wadsworth Brewster
Born(1710-04-01)April 1, 1710
Diedc. 1757
OccupationPoet and writer
Notable work
Poems on Diverse Subjects
Spouse(s)Oliver Brewster
ChildrenRuby, born January 5, 1733/34
Wadsworth, born April 14, 1737
Parent(s)Joseph Wadsworth, Jr.
Abigail Waite


Early life

She was born on April 1, 1710[3] in Lebanon, New London County, Connecticut,[2][4] a daughter of Joseph Wadsworth, Jr. and the granddaughter of Joseph Wadsworth, Sr. and Abigail Waite.[3] Her mother was Lydia Brown, whose parents were Captain John Brown of Swansea, Massachusetts,[5] and Anna Mason.[6][6][7][8]


She married, at an undetermined place, on Wednesday, March 22, 1732, Oliver Brewster,[9] who was born at Duxbury, Massachusetts on July 16, 1708, the son of William Brewster and Hopestill Wadsworth.[9][10] Oliver died, possibly in Bernardston, Massachusetts sometime after October 19, 1776 as this is the date when he deeded land in Lebanon, Connecticut to his son, Wadsworth.[11]


They were the parents of two children. Their son, Wadsworth Brewster,[9][12][13] born April 14, 1737 at Lebanon, New London County, Connecticut and died at Columbia, Tolland County, Connecticut on March 30, 1812. He married on May 24, 1759 at the Second Congregational Church at Lebanon, Connecticut, by the Rev. Dr. Eleazar Wheelock,[14] Jerusha Newcomb,[12][15] born January 6, 1740/41 at Lebanon, Connecticut the daughter of Silas Newcomb and Submit Pinneo.[16] She died on February 9, 1813 at Chatham, New York.[9][10][12][17][18]

Their daughter was Ruby Brewster,[9][19][20] born January 5, 1733/34 at Lebanon, New London County, Connecticut, and died at an unknown date in Bernardston, Massachusetts. She married on December 22, 1749 at Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Henry Bliss. He was born on August 21, 1726 at Lebanon, Connecticut and died on February 8, 1761. He was the son of Thomas Bliss and Mary Macranney.[21]


Martha Wadsworth Brewster died sometime after 1757, possibly at Lebanon, Connecticut. Her husband, Oliver, had relocated to Bernardston, Massachusetts prior to October 28, 1765[20] and she is not mentioned in any of the records in that town. The location of her grave is unknown. Nothing is known of her early life or education and her life remains an enigma.


She was one of a handful of American women poets who produced imaginative verse in the two centuries that mark the beginning of an American poetic literary tradition. Previous colonial American women poets, Anne Bradstreet and Jane Colman Turell, focused primarily on religion and family life. Brewster's 21 poems vary widely in theme and form: the more than 1100 lines include letters, farewells to friends who are moving, epithalamiums, eulogies, scriptural paraphrases, a love poem, a quaternion, a dream (in prose), and meditations.[4]

While she does write about more conventional religious and family themes, her work is also the first to tackle radical subject matter[2] for a woman of the eighteenth-century and reflects a shift from those themes to focus on the evils of war, military invasion and conquest and its cumulative effect on a nation and its citizens; and locates a woman's voice alongside those of the male founders of the country. She also writes about the schisms of the Great Awakening, and the muted stirring of personal ambition as well. Despite the traditional attitude toward women of the time, she clearly valued knowledge and intellect; and she could be considered an early feminist.[2]


Her principal work, Poems on Divers Subjects, which does appear to pay homage to Bradstreet's verse, contains poems, prose, and letters.[22] Perhaps because she exactingly examined topics that were considered outside both the experience and the ability of 18th-century women, a doubting public pressed her to authenticate her ability and to demonstrate her authorship to a public skeptical that a woman could write poetry by publicly paraphrasing a psalm into verse.[2] She was accused of "borrowing her Poetry from Isaac Watts and others." In a later poem of hers, she included a line that reads "Ye Creatures all, in vast Amazement Stand" evinces some trace of personal nuance aimed at those who had attempted to depreciate her competence as a poet.[14][22]

Many of her works appeared on broadsides[23] an early type of publication that resembled the modern-day flyer. In addition, she commemorated historical events in her poetry; in 1745, she set to meter a piece describing the capture of Cape Breton from the French by the British.[22]

In Delight in Reading, she instructed her daughter, Ruby, "You must go on by Reading and Study to improve the Powers which God has given you."[14]

She composed two acrostic poems of advice for her young children. The below poem is the one composed for her son, Wadsworth.[24][nb 1]

No single volume of her work is extant. There is no recorded response to Brewster's Poems documenting the volume's reception, but it appeared in two editions, one printed in New London, Connecticut (1757), and another printed in Boston (1758).[25] Both editions of her works were printed by publishers Benjamin Edes and John Gill of Boston, Massachusetts.[1] Such reprinting suggests an audience well beyond Brewster's immediate circle of family and friends.


Descendants of Oliver Brewster and Martha Wadsworth include:


  1. Schmidt, 9
  2. Bert, 71
  3. Wadsworth, 213
  4. Curland, Richard (Feb 9, 2010). "Historically Speaking: Colonial-era female poet born in Lebanon, Conn". The Norwich Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-05-21.
  5. Various, 1771
  6. Peck, 27
  7. He was born at Beccles, Suffolk, England, in 1580. Robert Peck graduated from Magdalene College, Cambridge, with an A.B. degree in 1599, and received his A. M., in 1603. He was a talented and influential clergyman and Puritan who had fled his Hingham, Norfolk, England, church after the crackdown by Archbishop Laud. Rev. Peck was eventually forced to flee and emigrated to the then colony of Massachusetts, where he co-founded the town of Hingham, Massachusetts. He was joined in settling the town with other members of his parish from Hingham, England. He resided in Hingham, Massachusetts for several years, until King Charles I had been executed and Oliver Cromwell had taken the reins of government. He then elected to return to Hingham, Norfolk, and resumed as rector of St Andrews Church. He died in Hingham but left descendants in America, including his brother Joseph Peck, who settled in Rehoboth, Massachusetts and whose descendants continued to live in the area through the twentieth century. Today's Pecks Corner in Rehoboth is named for this early family.
  8. Anne Mason was the daughter of John Mason who went to New England in 1632 and was a Deputy Governor of Connecticut, and the principal founder of Norwich, Connecticut and his wife Anne Peck, the daughter of the Rev. Robert Peck.
  9. Jones, 86
  10. Jones, 54
  11. Oliver was a great grandson of Love Brewster, a passenger with his father, mother and brother, Wrestling, aboard the Mayflower and a founder of the town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts; and a great-great grandson of Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim colonist leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony, and passenger aboard the Mayflower and one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact.
  12. Jones, 142
  13. Wadsworth Brewster at Find A Grave
  14. Scheick, 14
  15. Newcomb, 71
  16. She was a great great granddaughter of Major William Bradford and a great great great granddaughter of William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony and the second signer and primary architect of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor.
  17. Jerusha Newcomb Brewster at Find A Grave
  18. Jerusha Newcomb, Silas Newcomb, Hezekiah Newcomb m. Jerusha Bradford, Lieut. Thomas Bradford, Maj. William Bradford, Gov. William Bradford of the Mayflower.
  19. Jones, 141
  20. Kellogg, 313
  21. Bliss, p. 58
  22. Blanchard, 31
  23. The first published copies of the United States Declaration of Independence, printed on the night of July 4, 1776, by John Dunlap of Philadelphia, were on broadsides
  24. Brewster, Martha W. (1757). A Mother's Guiding Poems for her Children, 1757 (PDF).
  25. Blanchard, 32
  26. Jones, 625
  27. Jones, 626
  28. Jones, 1064
  29. Jones, 627
  30. Jones, 1065
  31. Jones, 623
  32. Jones, 624
  33. Greg Dean Camp, Milton Dwight Camp, Leonard Harvey Camp, William Davenport Camp, Lucia Withrow Brewster, Sydney Lyman Brewster, Jasper, Wadsworth, Oliver, William, William, Love, William of the Mayflower.
  34. Jones, 1046
  35. Champlin, 56
  36. Champlin, 66
  37. Rev. Fr. Joseph M. Champlin at Find A Grave
  38. Jones, 274
  39. Jones, 620
  40. Jones, 621
  41. William Peabody Malburn at Find A Grave
  42. Obituary: "Prof. Gaylord Brewster Noyce " Archived 2009-08-18 at the Wayback Machine Yale Divinity School, Office of Public Affairs.
  43. "Gaylord Brewster Noyce". Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement Web site. The Civil Rights Digital Library. 2007. Retrieved 2010-03-09.
  44. Jones, 1037
  45. Jones, 1038
  46. Jones, 1039
  47. "Matthew L. Rockwell". Chicago Architects Oral History Project. The Art Institute of Chicago. 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-05-22. Retrieved 2010-03-09.

Notes 2

  1. An Acrostic for my only Son
    "While Amorous, Gay, and Sanguine swells thy Veins,
    "An Off’ring of first Fruits, Jehovah Claims.
    "Due Odours of a sweet Perfume Present,
    "Steep’d in the Blood of the new Covenant;
    "What vulgar Notes Applaud, must be Suspected;
    "Obedience to the Standard ne’er Neglected;
    "Retire within the Mind, and shut the Door,
    "To all disord’red Passions, Rude and Sow’r,
    "Here summons, and exert each Manly Pow’r.
    "By Adequate, and Studious Observation,
    "Rise to the Poles, then dive to Navigation.
    "Early enrich thy Heart with moral Virtues,
    "Whereby to rectify inverted Nature:
    "Survey the Globe of Man, then turn thine Eyes
    "To search through Nature’s obscure Mysteries;
    "Envy may Hiss in Vain, at virt’ous Minds,
    "Regent in her own Breast, she sits Enshrin’d


  • Bliss, John Homer. Genealogy of the Bliss family in America, from about the year 1550-1880 Publisher: Boston, Mass., Printed by the author.
  • Burt, Daniel S. The chronology of American literature: America's literary achievements from the colonial era to modern times Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. ISBN 0-618-16821-4
  • Champlin, Charles Back There Where the Past Was:A Small-Town Boyhood, Syracuse University Press, 1999
  • Cowell, Patti Women Poets in Pre-Revolutionary America, 1650–1775, Whitson Publications, 1981
  • Jones, Emma C. Brewster. The Brewster Genealogy, 1566–1907: a Record of the Descendants of William Brewster of the "Mayflower," ruling elder of the Pilgrim church which founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. New York: Grafton Press. 1908
  • Kellogg, Lucy Jane (Cutler). History of the town of Bernardston, Franklin county, Massachusetts. 1736-1900: With genealogies Press of E.A. Hall & Co., 1902
  • Newcomb, John Bearse. Genealogical memoir of the Newcomb family: containing records of nearly every person of the name in America from 1635–1874. Printed for the author by Knight & Leonard, Chicago, 1874.
  • Peck, Ira Ballou. A genealogical history of the descendants of Joseph Peck: who emigrated with his family to this country in 1638; and records of his father's and grandfather's families in England Printed by A. Mudge & son, 1868.
  • Scheick, William J. Authority and female authorship in colonial America University Press of Kentucky, 1998. ISBN 0-8131-2054-3
  • Schmidt, Gary D. A passionate usefulness: the life and literary labors of Hannah Adams.University of Virginia Press, 2004 ISBN 0-8139-2272-0
  • Silverman, Kenneth Colonial American Poetry, Hafner Publication Company, 1968.
  • Various Authors. Representative men and old families of southeastern Massachusetts: containing historical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and genealogical records of many of the old families, Volume 3 J.H. Beers, 1912
  • Wadsworth, Horace Andrew. Two hundred and fifty years of the Wadsworth family in America: Containing an account of the family reunion, at Duxbury, Mass., September 13, 1882, and a genealogical register. Printed at the Eagle steam job printing rooms, 1883.
  • Watts, E. S. The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945, University of Texas Press, 1977.

Further reading

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