What Is Colonial Literature?

John Trumbull/Other

Colonial literature is the body of creative work produced by the early American colonists. These works include the personal, emotional poetry of Anne Bradstreet, the jeremiads produced by preachers like Increase Mather and Jonathan Edwards, and the popular Indian captivity narratives.

Early colonists, especially the New England colonists, were surprisingly literate. Puritans wrote poetry and sermons in the service of God, and explorers and adventurers wrote tracts on their discoveries in hopes of obtaining funding and political support. Colonial leaders, aware that they were creating a new land with a new history, carefully recorded everything that occurred in their new homes. When printing presses arrived, their owners published broadsides, pamphlets and sermons. The high-selling Indian captivity narratives perhaps represent the first wholly American genre of writing.