The first African American to publish a book on any subject, poet Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784) has long been denigrated by literary critics who refused to believe that a black woman could produce such dense, intellectual work, let alone influence Romantic-period giants like Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Phillis Wheatley challenged the power structure of the 1770s — just a few years before our fledgling nation would challenge the worldwide power structure by taking on a British king in a revolution. 1. 2009, Vol. Article. Most of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry consists of religion, death and the hardships … In less than two years, under the tutelage of Susanna and her daughter, Phillis had mastered English; she went on to learn Greek and Latin and caused a stir among Boston scholars by translating a tale from Ovid. Voltaire wrote, “Fontenelle was wrong to say that there would never be any poets among the Negroes: there is currently a Negress who makes some very good poetry.” 11Applegate 125. Dr. Sewall” (written 1769). In 1761, a frail child of seven or eight years, Phillis Wheatley came to America by slaveship from Senegal and was auctioned to Mrs. John Wheatley… Wheatley went to London in 1773 to recuperate from tuberculosis, most likely contracted on the slave ship where contagious diseases were rampant. Phillis Wheatley, the first black woman poet of note in the United States. She found colonists hypocritical as they embraced rhetoric of liberty and freedom while enslaving others. Phillis Wheatley was born in 1753 in West Africa. Biography of Phillis Wheatley. Although Wheatley's skillful use of the poetic genre creates a poem that could be studied in isolation, the key to full comprehension of her body of work is the biographical information. Wheatley’s work was frequently cited by abolitionists to combat the charge of innate intellectual inferiority among blacks and to promote educational opportunities for African Americans. Wheatley, Phillis (c. 1753 ... Wheatley indicates in her poems that she was well acquainted with animistic ancestor worship, solar worship, and Islam. The Influence of Religion in Phillis Wheatley's Life Phillis Wheatley overcame extreme obstacles, such as racism and sexism, to become one of the most acclaimed poets in the 18th Century. By Ian Khadan. The Poems of Phillis Wheatley By Phillis Wheatley; Julian D. Mason Jr University of North Carolina Press, 1989 (Revised edition) PS PRIMARY SOURCE A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. But in 2003, I read an article by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in The New Yorkerentitled “Phillis Wheatley on Trial,” an excerpt from his full-length The Trials of Phillis Wheatley, which addresses Wheatley’s early life and times and the reception of her only book, Poems on … Ring in the new year with a Britannica Membership, This article was most recently revised and updated by, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Phillis-Wheatley, National Women's History Museum - Biography of Phillis Wheatley, Public Broadcasting Service - Africans in America - Biography of Phillis Wheatley, Academy of American Poets - Biography of Phillis Wheatley, Poetry Foundation - Biography of Phillis Wheatley, Social Studies for Kids - Biography of Phillis Wheatley, BlackPast - Biography of Phillis Wheatley, Phillis Wheatley - Children's Encyclopedia (Ages 8-11), Phillis Wheatley - Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up), Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, “On Being Brought from Africa to America”, “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine…George Whitefield”, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral”. Several local newspapers reported her death, but the names of the friends and family who attended her funeral went unreported. Phillis Wheatley Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections . To The Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth, An Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Japanese-American UC Berkeley Students And Higher Education after the Camps, A Short History of U.S. Army Wives, 1776-1983, The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” Marches On, Anne Applegate, “Phillis Wheatley: Her Critics and Her Contribution.”, Henry Louis Gates, “Mister Jefferson and the Trials of Phillis Wheatley.” Lecture. Other poems expressed gratitude about being transported to America from “the land of errors,” as she calls Africa. The young girl who was to become Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped and taken to Boston on a slave ship in 1761 and purchased by a tailor, John Wheatley, as a personal servant for his wife, Susanna. Watch Henry Louis Gates discuss Phillis Wheatley and her criticisms (Relevant from 14:30). Phillis Wheatley 1753 - 1784. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. She was treated kindly in the In 1767, the Newport Mercury published Phillis Wheatley's first poem, a tale of two men who nearly drowned at sea, and of their steady faith in God. ‘twas thy gracious hand Brought me in safety from those dark abodes. Twenty of her fifty five poems were elegies like the one above, elegant mourning poems whose purpose was to comfort the loved ones of the deceased, and by Phillis’ hand, they often featured the drudgery of mortal life being compared to the happiness of going to heaven, as well as a God that was “benevolent, just, and merciful,“ accepting of Africans in ways that whites on earth were not. As a Christian, a slave, a woman, a poet and an African, Wheatley experienced discrimination on several fronts. New-York Historical Society Library. Viewing this hypocrisy “a strange Absurdity,” she writes, “’in every Human breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom…How well the Cry for Liberty, and the reverse Disposition for the exercise of oppressive Power over others…” Therefore, Wheatley’s silence on the issue of slavery in her poetry should not be taken as compliance in the institution but rather a hesitation while she was enslaved. 1 No. Phillis Wheatley was freed from slavery upon Susanna s death in 1773, a process called manumission. Her emphasis on the importance of these three faiths recurs throughout her 18 extant elegies. In 1778 she married John Peters, a free black man who eventually abandoned her. In his Notes on Virginia, Jefferson reveals his belief in the inherent inferiority of Africans, stating that he does not see them as capable of producing great works of writing. Christianity allowed Wheatley to find common ground and language between herself and her white audience. ca. South Carolina passed an act in 1740 prohibiting the literacy of slaves, calling it a “great inconvenience” for whites. In 1761, at about six years old, she was transported from West Africa to Boston on the slave ship Phillis. The poem “To the University of Cambridge, in New England” by Phillis Wheatley. Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. In Boston, she was purchased as a personal companion to Mrs. Susannah Wheatley—a prominent member of the community and wife of tailor John Wheatley. Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley (1834) was published 50 years after her death, and Letters of Phillis Wheatley, the Negro Slave-Poet of Boston appeared in 1864. A list of poems by Phillis Wheatley Born around 1753, Phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in America to publish a book. 8 Her preoccupation with death and the salvation of the afterlife leads Paula Bennett to make the conclusion that Wheatley hoped “she would be compensated after death for the pain she suffered in life.” 9 Some scholars have noted that the very front-piece illustration of her published book, depicting Wheatley seated at a table, quill in hand and looking into the horizon as though in full intellectual thought, is a sort of silent protest in its own right, acting as “quiet refutation, like that of the poems, of the tacit prejudice…that blacks were incapable of being fully intelligent and respectable humans.” 10. Henry Louis Gates, a leading historian and literary critic at Harvard University states: “If she had indeed written her own poems, then this would demonstrate that Africans were human beings and should be liberated from slavery. At age fourteen, Wheatley began to write poetry, publishing her first poem in 1767. The horrors of the middle passage likely contributed to her persistent trouble with asthma. In a short letter written to Reverend Samson Occum in 1774 depicts Wheatley hints at her frustration during the beginning stages of the American revolution. Phillis’ literacy and education was abnormal. Her elegy for the evangelist George Whitefield, brought more attention to Phillis Wheatley. Article. Read, clip & save 3719 Phillis Wheatley historic newspaper articles & photos in 15,242+ newspapers from all 50 states & 22 countries! Phillis Wheatley Peters, also spelled Phyllis and Wheatly (c. 1753 – December 5, 1784) was the first African-American author of a published book of poetry. Her poetry represented the values of the Enlightenment. Phillis Wheatley (Wheatley, Phillis, 1753-1784) Online books about this author are available, as is a Wikipedia article.. Wheatley, Phillis, 1753-1784: An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of That Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Late Reverend, and Pious, George Whitefield (Boston: Russell and Boyles, 1770) Phillis Wheatley (ca. Wheatley’s ‘Little Columbiad’ belongs to this alternative class, given its distrust of those leaders apparently beyond reproach and its call for the liberation of all Americans. Abolitionists often referred to Wheatley’s work in refuting claims that African Americans were intellectually inferior to whites and in arguing for the expansion of educational opportunities for African Americans. …universal brotherhood of humanity, African-born. Wheatley, Phillis (1753–05 December 1784), poet and cultivator of the epistolary writing style, was born in Gambia, Africa, probably along the fertile low lands of the Gambia River. As G. J. Barker-Benfield acknowledges, Phillis Wheatley Chooses Freedom is very much indebted to my biography of Wheatley (Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage, 2011), to the edition of the correspondence of Philip Quaque that I coedited with Ty M. Reese (The Life and Letters of Philip Quaque, the First African-Anglican Missionary, 2010), and to numerous recent commentators … Wheatley’s personal qualities, even more than her literary talent, contributed to her great social success in London. Access thousands of high-quality, free K-12 articles, and create online assignments with them for your students. Phillis Wheatley gained transatlantic recognition with her 1770 elegy on the death of the evangelist George Whitefield, which she addressed and sent to his English patron, the Countess of Huntingdon. Phillis Wheatley, the first black woman poet of note in the United States. Parts of the United States already had laws in existence that made it illegal to teach slaves to read. The New Yorker, January 20, 2003 P. 82. The PHILLIS WHEATLEY ASSOCIATION was established in 1911 in Cleveland as the Working Girls Home Association by JANE EDNA HARRIS HUNTER.Hunter created the Phillis Wheatley Association to house and help unmarried African American women and girls, newcomers to the North often preyed upon by unscrupulous employers or agencies. Phillis Wheatley challenged the power structure of the 1770s — just a few years before our fledgling nation would challenge the worldwide power structure by taking on a … Steeled was that soul, and by no misery moved, That from a father seized his babe beloved: Such, such my case. 2009, Vol. A Poet Enslaved and Enlightened American poet Phillis Wheatley spent the majority of her life embroiled in a clash of cultures. South Carolina passed an act in 1740 prohibiting the literacy of slaves, calling it a “great inconvenience” for whites. Modern scholars attempt to reconstruct Wheatley’s thoughts about race in America through her poems. Her book of poetry was published in 1773. Updates? When Wheatley was only seven years old she was sold by a local chief to a visiting slave trader. Where modern scholars criticize Wheatley for being ‘too white,’ Thomas Jefferson found the opposite problem in her work. Her date of birth and her African name are not known. Phillis Wheatley, as illustrated by Scipio Moorhead in the Frontispiece to her book Poems on Various Subjects #2 Wheatley was named after the slave ship that brought her to U.S. She was sold to John Wheatley, a wealthy Boston merchant and tailor, who bought her as a servant for his wife Susanna. The disbelief was so enormous that a special committee was set up to test the legitimacy of Phillis’ authorship. Phillis Wheatley's Journey. But this poem demands reexamination, as it is where Wheatley first engages with Jonathan Edwards’s theology. This essay examines the means by which African American poet Phillis Wheatley uses her evangelical Christianity to engage issues of race in revolutionary America. In addition to providing lifelong history lovers, teachers, and students free access to premier digital research, the editors and writers of U.S. History Scene are available for freelance or consulting work. At the time of her death, Phillis's husband was probably still in prison. A CRITIC AT LARGE about American poet & slave Phillis Wheatley... She had arrived in Boston on July 11, 1761, on board the Phillis… She was auditioning for the humanity of the entire African people.” 2 The committee was eventually satisfied that Wheatley was the author of her poems, and ended the session. Her poetry gave insight into marginalized groups in colonial America often silenced due to illiteracy. 1753-1784), the first African American woman poet, was a celebrated literary figure in Boston during the Revolutionary era. Because coming to America also marked her enslavement, many modern scholars have found her exuberant patriotism and simultaneous silence on slavery to be a betrayal of her race. Applegate posits Phyllis’ ambivalence toward slavery was due to “the kind circumstances of her life while living with the Wheatleys giving her no reason to be angry at being brought to America. Prev Article Next Article . 1753-1784. This I desire not for their Hurt, but to convince them of the strange Absurdity of their Conduct whose Words and Actions are so diametrically, opposite. Her poetry revealed much about colonial society in eighteenth century New England and its hierarchal relationships. Both Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley died shortly thereafter. The poem has Wheatley being thankful- for being brought to America in that it gave her the opportunity to not only be educated, but to convert to Christianity: “’Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land, / Taught my benighted soul to understand / That there’s a God, and that there’s a Savior too,” the poem states, depicting her unforced devotion to Christianity as well as belief in God as “Savior” who would deliver her to the equality of heaven. She was treated kindly in the Wheatley household, almost as a third child. But in 2003, I read an article by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in The New Yorkerentitled “Phillis Wheatley on Trial,” an excerpt from his full-length The Trials of Phillis Wheatley, which addresses Wheatley’s early life and times and the reception of her only book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). Her buyers, John and Susannah Wheatley, named her after her slave ship. Online Books by. Search for more books and articles on Phillis Wheatley. Article shared by. The young girl who was to become Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped and taken to Boston on a slave ship in 1761 and purchased by a tailor, John Wheatley, as a personal servant for … Her name served as a constant reminder of her status as a slave and piece of property. She showed promise as a writer and a thinker, but due to her race, was never accepted into contemporary white society, yet was not a good representation of the average slave’s life in colonial America either. She doesn't belabor her sadness over how black she is or is not. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.” According to Jefferson, although Phillis may have the ability to write, her poetry is not the product “of intellect and reflection.” 6 In his mind, her work was dull and uninspired, giving even more reason to Jefferson’s argument that slavery was not ‘inhumane’ as he did not see Africans as fully equal to white humans to begin with. A year prior in 1772, Susanna attempted to publish Phillis’ work in Boston. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). Published Poems . Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa. Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), Eighth Grade Reading Passage Improve your students’ reading comprehension with ReadWorks. She was born in Africa and taken by slave ship to America when she was about seven years old. In 1760 Timothy Fitch, a wealthy merchant from Medford, Massachusetts sent one of his men to Senegal to purchase 110 "Prime Slaves." Phillis Wheatley was brought from Senegambia to America as a young slave girl in 1761. 1 No. In her poetry and other writings, she addresses and even instructs white men of privilege on the spiritual equality of people of African descent. She was enslaved as a child of seven or eight and sold in Boston to John and Susanna Wheatley on 11 July 1761. When Phillis Wheatley writes letters to her friend Obour Tanner of Newport, Rhode Island, another enslaved woman, she doesn't lament her black skin or her enslavement. Phillis Wheatley was the first African American of either gender to publish a book of poetry. Corrections? Phillis Wheatley was a revolutionary intellectual who waged a war for freedom with her words. Wheatley, Phillis (1753–05 December 1784), poet and cultivator of the epistolary writing style, was born in Gambia, Africa, probably along the fertile low lands of the Gambia River. Wheatley proved to many people that Blacks were equal to whites in creative ability. The keyword Phillis Wheatley is tagged in the following 1 articles. Phillis Wheatley Paragraph 1 For the poet Philips Whitely, who was brought to colonial New England as a slave in 1761, the formal literary code of eighteenth-century English was thrice removed: by the initial barrier of the unfamiliar English language, by the discrepancy between spoken and literary forms of English, and by the African tradition of oral rather than written verbal art. Born in about 1753, perhaps in present-day Senegal, the girl who was to become Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped and placed aboard a slave ship bound for Boston, Massachusetts, when she was seven or eight years old. This can be difficult because Wheatley’s poems were consciously written for an eighteenth century white slave-owning audience. This essay examines the means by which African American poet Phillis Wheatley uses her evangelical Christianity to engage issues of race in revolutionary America. Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American poetess, writes most of the poems about life which is essentially inspired by positivity.. God grant Deliverance in his own Way and Time, and get him honour upon all those whose Avarice impels them to countenance and help forward tile Calamities of their fellow Creatures. Wheatley stood as stark proof that Africans had the same intellectual capabilities as Europeans. Phillis Wheatley was the first female African-American to publish a book of poetry and became a well-known poet in the 18th century. Although the Wheatleys appeared to treat Phillis humanely, they should not be regarded as progressives– they purchased her, held her in captivity, and it was likely they bestowed Wheatley with an education because they saw her as an anomaly amongst Africans. A number of her other poems celebrate the nascent United States of America, whose struggle for independence was sometimes employed as a metaphor for spiritual or, more subtly, racial freedom. Phillis Wheatley. 4One poem in which Wheatley divulges rare negative thoughts on her enslavement is in “To The Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth,” in which she describes her capture: I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate was snatched from Afric’s fancied happy seat: What pants excruciating must molest What sorrows labor in my parent’s breast! At the end of her life Wheatley was working as a servant, and she died in poverty. Two "Disapora Subjectivity and Transatlantic Crossings: Phillis Wheatley's Poetics of Recovery" and Chap. The details of Wheatley’s life in Africa, including her date and place of birth, are hazy. Bought by a family in Boston who taught her to read and write, Wheatley's poetry came to be admired by George Washington, as well as … It m...PHILLIS WHEATLEY. She expressed thankfulness for her Christian conversion. Her works are characterized by religious and moral backgrounds, which are due to … They began to “show her off” as an “exotic curiosity” to prominent Boston society for their own profit. Carretta also notes that Wheatley was the first colonial woman of any race to have a frontispiece attached to her writing and that the use of such an image of a living author was uncommon in the eighteenth century. At the desire of friends she had made in England, she was soon freed. Despite spending much of her life enslaved, Phillis Wheatley was the first African American and second woman (after Anne Bradstreet) to publish a book of poems. Being that Phillis Wheatley was a slave herself who was both black and female with large comprehension skills this sent a more powerful message for the African American culture. For instance, in the poem To the University of Cambridge, in New England she writes: Twas not long since I left my native shore, The land of errors and Egyptian gloom: Father of mercy! She was purchased in Boston as a house servant by a tailor named John Wheatley. Because Phillis Wheatley’s “On Virtue” is one of the first poems that she wrote, it is often dismissed as a poem of juvenilia. © 2021 U.S. History Scene, all rights reserved. Phillis Wheatley, one of America’s most profound writers, has contributed greatly to American literature, not only as a writer, but as an African American woman, who has influenced many African Americans by enriching their knowledge of and exposure to their Negro heritage and Negro literature. A free black man who eventually abandoned her of it success in London, she was granted her freedom life. Let us know if you have suggestions to Improve this article ( requires )..., never fully belonging to either calling it a “ great inconvenience ” for whites us continue bring. Slave-Owning audience slaves to read safety from those dark abodes financial backing, Wheatley experienced discrimination on fronts... 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