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12. 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. Online Books by. Phillis Weatley was an African American slave brought from Africa to America with no rights but with a massive talent for the Comprehension of English. - The Academy of American Poets is the largest membership-based nonprofit organization fostering an appreciation for contemporary poetry and supporting American poets. 1 No. She was only thirty-one years old. She married a fellow African, John Peters, in 1774, and had three children. Phillis Wheatley (tagged articles) The keyword Phillis Wheatley is tagged in the following 1 articles. At the time of her death, Phillis's husband was probably still in prison. 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. Her elegy for the evangelist George Whitefield, brought more attention to 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! 2009, Vol. - The Academy of American Poets is the largest membership-based nonprofit organization fostering an appreciation for contemporary poetry and supporting American poets. 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. 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. 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. Phillis Wheatley. 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. 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”. She doesn't belabor her sadness over how black she is or is not. Modern scholars attempt to reconstruct Wheatley’s thoughts about race in America through her poems. One of her first poems to gain renown in both England and America was an elegy of George Whitefield. Her date of birth and her African name are not known. The Wheatleys were inclined to provide her with a basic Western education in English, poetry, arithmetic, and philosophy. Phillis Wheatley was America’s first black female poet who learned to read and write at an age where blacks were either unable to learn or restricted from these opportunities. Help us continue to bring you the best of the archives... without the dust! In this lecture from Yale University, Professor Paul Fry examines trends in African-American literary criticism through the lens of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Toni Morrison. 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. Phillis Wheatley was freed from slavery upon Susanna’s death in 1773, a process called ‘manumission.’ There were few prospects available to freed African people in colonial New England. 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. She was treated kindly in the 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… Phillis Wheatley was captured in Africa and sold into slavery when she was about seven years old. Watch Henry Louis Gates discuss Phillis Wheatley and her criticisms (Relevant from 14:30). Article. Omissions? 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 … Phillis Wheatley and her last child died in Boston on December 5, 1784. At the desire of friends she had made in England, she was soon freed. Ile came across it in Duyckinc...Phillis Wheatley … Slavery Plays Jump-Rope with Racism: Examining the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley. 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. The horrors of the middle passage likely contributed to her persistent trouble with asthma. Keep up with history and join our newsletter. Phillis Wheatley was the first African American of either gender to publish a book of poetry. This essay examines the means by which African American poet Phillis Wheatley uses her evangelical Christianity to engage issues of race in revolutionary America. Most of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry consists of religion, death and the hardships … She found colonists hypocritical as they embraced rhetoric of liberty and freedom while enslaving others. She was purchased in Boston as a house servant by a tailor named John Wheatley. Most slaves, as well as many poor white Americans, did not acquire her level of education. New-York Historical Society Library. Phillis Wheatley. In her poetry and other writings, she addresses and even instructs white men of privilege on the spiritual equality of people of African descent. As a Christian, a slave, a woman, a poet and an African, Wheatley experienced discrimination on several fronts. 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. 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. In her poetry and other writings, she addresses and even instructs white men of privilege on the spiritual equality of people of African descent. Phillis Wheatley was a revolutionary intellectual who waged a war for freedom with her words. Wheatley went to London in 1773 to recuperate from tuberculosis, most likely contracted on the slave ship where contagious diseases were rampant. 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. 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. The disbelief was so enormous that a special committee was set up to test the legitimacy of Phillis’ authorship. Phillis Wheatley, who ascribed a pi em to him when he was in command of tbe American army at Cam bridge. The book sold very well in America and England, and had eleven editions printed between 1773 and 1838. The piece is typical of Wheatley’s poetic oeuvre both in its formal reliance on couplets and in its genre; more than one-third of her extant works are elegies to prominent figures or friends. 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! ‘twas thy gracious hand Brought me in safety from those dark abodes. Her poetry represented the values of the Enlightenment. After her manumission and the death of Susanna Wheatley, in 1774, Phillis became more vocal in expressing her antislavery views. Her poetry revealed much about colonial society in eighteenth century New England and its hierarchal relationships. 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. She returned to Boston in September because of the illness of her mistress. This essay examines the means by which African American poet Phillis Wheatley uses her evangelical Christianity to engage issues of race in revolutionary America. 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