American Literature Beginnings through 1750

American Literature
Beginnings through 1750
Timeline of Events
1492- Native American groups first encounter
explorers. At this time there are several hundred
Native American tribes.
1492- Christopher Columbus lands in the
1500’s- Exploration of the new land, colonists
arrive and settle in the late 1500’s
1607- First permanent English settlement at
Jamestown, Virginia
1619- First black slaves brought to Virginia
1620- Pilgrims land at Plymouth, Massachusetts
Unit One- Beginnings through 1750
Blend of Native American Literature, Puritan
Literature, and Southern Plantation Owners
 Myths, speeches, nonfiction, poetry
 Some famous authors during this time period
are: Navajo, Iroquois, and Onondaga tribes,
Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Jonathan
Edwards, John Smith, and William Bradford.
Native Americans
Tribes are scattered all over
 They differ greatly in language,
government, social organizations,
customs, and housing.
 Example: A Southwestern tribe would
differ greatly from a Northern tribe.
Native Americans continued…
Not much is known about this time period.
What we do know is that some Native
Americans were friendly and helpful to the
new settlers.
 Most settlers would not have survived
without Native American assistance.
Puritans (Early Settlers)
Mayflower pilgrims were Puritans
They were religious reformers that wanted
to purify the church. They withdrew from
the church and are commonly called
 Most of that sector was encompassed by
the Massachusetts Bay Colony (they
wanted to reform the church from within)
Puritans are Religious Reformers
They believed that human beings exist for
the glory of God and the bible is the sole
expression of God’s will.
 They also believe in predestination (God
decides who will be saved and who will
not be saved)
 They are constantly “checking” themselves
Puritan Ideals
 Frugality
 Self-improvement
 Self-reliance
“Good is only achieved thorough hard
work and self discipline.”
Puritans continued…
The Puritan religion began to see a decline
in the early 1700’s. However, it was
revived by “The Great Awakening”.
 “The Great Awakening” was a series of
religious revivals by Jonathan Edwards
and George Whitefield.
 However, by 1750 the Puritan movement
had mostly ended.
Southern Colonies
These colonies were wealthy and
 The climate, crops, social organizations,
and religion differs greatly from the
 Busy social lives
 Plantation owners
Mixing Pot
It is the combination of Native
American folklore and tradition,
Puritan preoccupation with sin
and salvation, and Southern
Planters busy social lives that
form the basis of American
Native American Tradition
Native American Literature is mostly
 The stories were sung as long songs.
 Usually they were about hero tales,
migration legends, or creation myths.
 Most of the literature was oral. Therefore,
there are no fixed versions. The story
would change with every speaker.
Native American Folklore
Some stories were captured in writing.
 Often the language is poetic and moving.
Famous orators of Native American stories
of this time period are Logan and Red
“In Adam’s Fall/We Sinned All”
Religion dominated their lives.
 It also dominated the literature.
 Most of the writings were theological
studies, hymns, histories, biographies, and
 By modern standards most of these
writings would not be considered literary
Puritan Literature
The purpose of the literature was to
provide spiritual insight and instruction.
 Neither fiction nor drama was produced.
Both were considered sinful.
 Poetry was acceptable, but only for
spiritual enlightenment. (Anne Bradstreet
and Edward Taylor)
Puritan Beliefs continued…
There was a strong belief in education for both
men and women.
 In 1636, Harvard College was founded. Its
purpose was to create a well educated ministry.
 Two years later, the first printing press was
established. One of the first books to be
published was entitled the Bay Psalm Book.
 In 1647, the concept of schools started to
Literary Style
The style of writing is plain.
 The goal is to have a clear statement.
 If the writing was ornate or clever it was
considered a sign of vanity.
Southern Voices
Very few notable Southern writers
appeared prior to 1750
 Those who were educated produced a
substantial amount of the writings
 They wrote for practical reasons
 Fiction and drama was enjoyed
 The first theater in America was in
Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1716.
Unit One-Beginnings to 1750
“The writers whose work appears in this
unit are not the great names in American
literature. They are the founders, the men
and women who laid the groundwork for
the towering achievements that followed.”
Study collections