American Literature

John Cotton (1643?—1683) is often credited with having written these two first significant poems of American Southern literature, though some scholars lean toward attributing the works to his wife, Ann Cotton. Little is known about either except for the fact that their Virginia land adjoined the estate of Nathaniel Bacon, the leader of Bacon’s Rebellion in 1675—76. Cotton, sometimes referred to as John Cotton of Queen’s Creek, was not a politically active member of the merchant-planter class, and no consensus exits on whether he considered himself a loyalist to the English crown or a rebel opposing it. “Bacon’s Epitaph, made by his Man,” has been described by Southern literary scholar Louis Rubin, Jr. as “the best poem written in America in the seventeenth century—and quite possibly the best during the colonial era.” The “Epitaph” and its accompanying poem “Upon the Death of G:B.” take opposite sides on the rebellion, each poem written in counterpoint to the other. Among other possibilities, the spouses may have each taken a side and written the poems as a kind of literary parlor game.


Bacon's Epitaph and Upon the Death of G. B.