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Picture of Sarah BoltonSarah T. Barrett Bolton
1814 - 1893

Hoosier Connection: Sarah Bolton moved to Madison, Indiana, with her family as child. Later, she married a newspaper editor in Madison and moved to Indianapolis.

Works Discussed: Paddle Your Own Canoe, The Life and Poems of Sarah T. Bolton, and Songs of a life-time

Sarah Bolton was born in Newport, Kentucky, in 1814. Her parents are Esther Pendleton and Jonathan Belcher, and she was the oldest of six children. The family moved to a frontier farm, near Six-Mile Creek, in Madison, Indiana, when she was still a child. In 1831, she married the editor of Madison’s newspaper, Nathaniel Bolton. Their marriage was no accident as Sarah Bolton’s poetry had been printed in the Madison paper since she was 13. A year after their marriage they moved to Indianapolis, where Mr. Bolton was editor of the Indiana Democrat and later a tavern owner. While Bolton’s husband was busy running the tavern, she found herself being a housekeeper and cook, along with running a large dairy farm. During this time she wrote her first collection of poems entitled Paddle Your Own Canoe.

Throughout the 1840s and 50s Mrs. Bolton was considered the unofficial poet laureate of Indiana. She continued to write poetry and be published in newspapers and home journals. Later, Mr. Bolton became a U.S. councilman in Geneva, Switzerland, where he died. Five years after her husband’s death, Sarah Bolton remarried. Her second husband wanted to live in Montana, but Bolton found it to be disagreeable and so moved back to Indianapolis where she died in 1893.

When Bolton first moved to Indiana she spent most of her time exploring its wilderness, which was reflected in her earlier poetry. This can especially be seen in “Our Pioneers” contained in the collection Songs of a life-time:

Once more, O friends, in life we meet
Where Oakland’s forest cool and green
Spreads summer grass beneath our feet,
Above our heads a leafy screen,
And bright-winged birds all day long
Pour out their happiness in song (44).

The poem goes on to explain the hardships and sacrifices that the pioneers of Indiana had to go through. She goes into detail how everyone helped their neighbor, went to church, and then later started to build up a community. She plots out how Indiana went from a wilderness to a society:

Life in the wilderness went slow,
There were no famous lectures then,
No circus with its royal show
Of tinseled women, juggling men;
No acrobats, no grand trapeze,
In these wild woods, in those days (47).

Later in the poem, she looks back upon all that the Indiana landscape had to endure:

Those olden times have passed away,
And in the clearing by the wood,
Fair architecture builds, to-day,
Proud mansions where the cabin stood,
And cities lift their dooms and spires
Where hunters struck their lone camp-fires (47).

Growing up in the frontier of Indiana, Bolton saw the state undergo a lot of changes throughout her life, including the change of the landscape from forest and prairies to fields and farmhouses.

In the later part of Bolton’s life she found herself doing quite a bit of traveling, whether it was through European countries, or even further west in the United States. She wrote several poems about missing the beauty of Indiana and even the simple country life she had to give up. In one such poem, entitled “When Life Is Not Worth Living”, she speaks of moving to the city and all the turmoil that follows, and in the end, life is just not worth the chaos. In another poem, “Madison,” she describes how much she misses her childhood haven:

Home of my long-gone childhood, still thou art
Of living memory, love and life a part-
No classic city in a classic land,
However stately, beautiful and grand,
Could ever in my fond affection be
What thou hast been, what thou art to me.
I never hear thy name but thought goes back,
Along the path that bore my childhood’s track.
Again I climb the summit of thy hills-
Hear the sweet rhythmic music of thy rills,
And learn the story that the passing breeze
Tells, of its wanderings, to the ancient trees.
I find the rock-ribbed gorge, the mossy dell,
Where hairbells ring and fairy people dwell;
And, when a beechen bough is rudely stirred,
I hear a dryad whispering some fond word,
Of tender warning, to the trembling leaves,
That answer, murmuring, like a heart that grieves (68).

The poem continues on with more fond recollections, and further description of how she spent her time in Madison as a little girl. “Madison” is not the only poem devoted to the topic of the state she would call home. Another poem entitled “Indiana,” found in The Life and Poems of Sarah T. Bolton, is perhaps more famous, praiseful, and full of pride for a state that she found herself growing to love:

Though many laud Itakia's clime,
And call Helvetia's land sublime,
Tell Gallia's praise in prose and rhyme,
And worship old Hispania:
The winds of Heaven never spanned
The borders of a better land
Than our own Indiana.

Encrowned with forests grand and old,
Enthroned on mineral wealth untold,
Coining her soil to yellow gold,
Through labor's great arcana,
She fosters commerce, science, art,
With willing hands and generous heart,
And sends to many a foreign mart
Products of Indiana (383).
(Read full text.)

To say that Heaven has not toched a more beautiful place is a bold statement that Bolton will continue to back up as the poem progresses. In the following stanzas, she talks of the kindness, a little history, and the beauty of Indiana:

But even while our hearts rejoice
In the dear homeland of our choice,
We should, with one united voice,
Give thanks, and sing Hosanna.
To him whose love and bounteous grace
Gave to the people of our race
A freehold, an abiding place,
In fertile Indiana (380).

Reading Bolton’s poetry, one can feel the love and respect she had for the wilderness that was Indiana. Even when she was traveling, her thoughts would go back to the home where she was allowed to wander and explore. Even while away, Indiana was still close to Bolton’s heart and her pen.



Banta, R. E., ed. "Sara Bolton." Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1816-1916: Biographical Sketches of Authors Who Published During the First Century of Indiana Statehood, With Lists of Their Books. Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College, 1949.

Bolton, Sarah T. The Life and Poems of Sarah T. Bolton. Indianapolis: Fred L. Horton & Co., 1880.

---. Songs of a life-time. Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill Co., 1891.


Bolton, Sarah T. The Life and Poems of Sarah T. Bolton. Indianapolis: Fred L. Horton & Co., 1880.


Full text of poem "Indiana"