Phillis Wheatley


Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley (1753 – December 5, 1784) was the first published African American poet whose writings helped create the genre of African American literature. ["The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers" by Henry Louis Gates, Basic Civitas Books, 2003, page 5.] She was born in Gambia , Africa, and became a slave at age seven. She was purchased by the Boston Wheatley family, who taught her to read and write, and helped encourage her poetry.

The 1773 publication of Wheatley's "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," brought her fame, with dignitaries such as George Washington praising her work. Wheatley also toured England and was praised in a poem by fellow African American poet Jupiter Hammon. Wheatley was emancipated by her owners after her poetic success, but stayed with the Wheatley family until the death of her former master and the breakup of his family. She then married a free black man, who soon left her. She died in poverty in 1784 while working on a second book of poetry, which has now been lost. ["Women's Political and Social Thought: An Anthology" by Hilda L. Smith, Indiana University Press, 2000, page 123.]

Early years

Born around 1753 in what is the modern day Senegal, Wheatley was kidnapped and taken to America in 1761 aboard a slave ship called "Phillis" (from which she received her name). She was purchased in Boston by a wealthy merchant named John Wheatley and his family. Wheatleys both instructed her and encouraged her education, ["Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience" by Henry Louis Gates and Anthony Appiah, Basic Civitas Books, 1999, page 1171.] including study of foreign languages such as Latin, and history. Phillis Wheatley was tutored by the Wheatley’s son, Nathaniel, in English, Latin, history, geography, religion, and the Bible. Wheatley was baptized at Old South Meeting House. [ [http://web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap2/wheatley.html PAL: Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) ] ]

Later years

Phillis’s popularity as a poet both in the United States and England ultimately brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773. She appeared before General Washington in March, 1776 for her poetry and was a strong supporter of independence during the Revolutionary War.She married a free black grocer named John Peters. This marriage produced three children, two of whom soon died. Her husband left her and Wheatley earned a living as a servant. By 1784 she was living in a boarding house and, in December of that year, she and her remaining child died and were buried in an unmarked grave. She died in poverty at the age of 31. Wheatley's third child died only a few hours after her death. At the time of her death, there was a second volume of poetry but no publishers were willing to publish it.

Poetry

In 1768, Wheatley wrote "To the King's Most Excellent Majesty," in which she praised George III for repealing the Stamp Act. ["Women's Political and Social Thought: An Anthology" by Hilda L. Smith, Indiana University Press, 2000, page 123.] However, as the American Revolution gained strength, Wheatley turned to writing about themes from the point of view of the colonists.In 1770 Wheatley wrote a poetic tribute to George Whitefield that received widespread acclaim. Wheatley's poetry overwhelmingly revolves around Christian themes, with many poems dedicated to famous personalities. Over one-third consist of elegies, the remainder being on religious, classical and abstract themes. [ [http://www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/exhibits/treasures/american/wheatley.html Phillis Wheatley] page, comments on "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral", accessed Oct. 5, 2007] She rarely mentions her own situation in her poems. One of the few which refers to slavery is "On being brought from Africa to America":

:"Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic dye."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.´" Because many white people of the time found it hard to believe that a black woman could be so intelligent as to write poetry, in 1772 Wheatley had to defend her literary ability in court. [Ellis Cashmore, review of "The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature", Nellie Y. McKay and Henry Louis Gates, eds., "New Statesman", April 25, 1997.] ["Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience" by Henry Louis Gates and Anthony Appiah, Basic Civitas Books, 1999, page 1171.] She was examined by a group of Boston luminaries including John Erving, Reverend Charles Chauncey, John Hancock, Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts, and his Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver. They concluded that she had in fact written the poems ascribed to her and signed an which was published in the preface to her book "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" published in Aldgate, London in 1773. The book was published in London because publishers in Boston had refused to publish the text. Wheatley and her master's son, Nathanial Wheatley, went to London, where Selina, Countess of Huntingdon and the Earl of Dartmouth helped with the publication.

Through her poetry, Wheatley is credited with helping found African American literature. ["Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience" by Henry Louis Gates and Anthony Appiah, Basic Civitas Books, 1999, page 1171.]

In 1778, African American poet Jupiter Hammon wrote an ode to Wheatley. Hammon never mentions himself in the poem, but it appears that in choosing Wheatley as a subject, he was acknowledging their common bond.

Style

Wheatley wrote in the formal poetic style that was popular in her time, ["Women's Political and Social Thought: An Anthology" by Hilda L. Smith, Indiana University Press, 2000, page 123.] [Kathleen De Grave, Pittsburgh State University . [http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=4680 "Phillis Wheatley." The Literary Encyclopedia.] 26 Sep. 2006. The Literary Dictionary Company. 21 October 2007.] often focusing on moral and religious subjects.

Recognition and legacy

With the 1774 publication of Wheatley's book "Poems on Various Subjects," she "became the most famous African on the face of the earth. ["The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers" by Henry Louis Gates, Basic Civitas Books, page 33.] Voltaire wrote to a friend that Wheatley had proved that black people could write poetry. John Paul Jones asked a fellow officer to deliver some of his personal writings to "Phillis the African favorite of the Nine (muses) and Apollo." ["The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers" by Henry Louis Gates, Basic Civitas Books, page 33.] She was also honored by many of America's founding fathers, including George Washington.

Wheatley's book is today seen as helping create the genre of African American literature. ["The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers" by Henry Louis Gates, Basic Civitas Books, 2003, page 5.]

There is a building named in her honor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Poems by Phillis Wheatley

*Poems by Phillis Wheatley, "An Address to the Atheist" and "An Address to the Deist," 1767
* "To the King's Most Excellent Majesty" 1768
*Poem by Phillis Wheatley, "Athiesim," July 1769
*"An Elegiac Poem On the Death of that celebrated Divine, and eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned Mr. George Whitefield," 1771
*Poem by Phillis Wheatley, "A Poem of the Death of Charles Eliot ...," 1 September 1772
*Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (title page and frontispiece of 1773 edition)
*Poem by Phillis Wheatley, "To His Honor the Lieutenant Governor on the death of his Lady," 24 March 1773
*"An Elegy, To Miss Mary Moorhead, On the Death of her Father, The Rev. Mr. John Moorhead," 1773
*"An Elegy, Sacred to the Memory of the Great Divine, the Reverend and the Learned Dr. Samuel Cooper," 1784
*"Liberty and Peace, A Poem" 1784
*Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (title page and front matter of 1802 edition)
*"To the Right and Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth ..." from Poems of Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1802 edition)

Books

* "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" Published in 1773
* "To His Excellency George Washington" written for Washington in 1776
* "Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and Slave" (Boston: Published by Geo. W. Light, 1834), also by Margaretta Matilda Odell

See also

* Slave narrative
* African American literature
* Jupiter Hammon

References

Further reading

*Gates, H. "The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters With the Founding Fathers" Basic Civitas Books, 2003
*Abcarian, Richard and Marvin Klotz. "Phyllis Wheatley." In "Literature: The Human Experience", 9th edition. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006: 1606.
*Shockley, Ann Allen, Afro-American Women Writers 1746-1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide, New Haven, Connecticut: Meridian Books, 1989. ISBN 0-452-00981-2

External links

*gutenberg author| id=Phillis+Wheatley | name=Phillis Wheatley
* [http://dmoz.org/Arts/Literature/World_Literature/American/Early/Wheatley,_Phillis/ "Phillis Wheatley"] at the Open Directory Project
* [http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/main_pages/madison_archives/era/african/free/wheatley/poems/poems.htm JMU site with her poems]
* [http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap2/hammon_poem.html Jupiter Hammon's Poem to Phillis Wheatley]
* [http://www.eastendtalking.org.uk/OurHistory/legends/power_writers.asp "Power Writers"]
* [http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showflat.php/Cat/0/Number/688713/an/0/page/0#688713 A Geo-Biography of Phillis Wheatley on Google Earth]
* [http://www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0214_Phillis_Wheatley.html Phillis Wheatley: Precursor of American Abolitionism]
* [http://womenshistory.about.com/od/aframerwriters/a/philliswheatley.htm Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet of Colonial America: a story of her life]
* [http://womenshistory.about.com/od/aframerwriters/a/philliswheatley.htm: Phyllis Wheatley]
* [http://www.aaregistry.com./african_american_history/267/Poet_Phyllis_Wheatley_was_a_trailblazer_ The African American Registry]
* [http://www.masshist.org/endofslavery/?queryID=57 Phillis Wheatley]
* [http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/whea-phi.htm History in Woman - Phillis Wheatley]
* [http://www.sc.edu/library/spcoll/wheatley/wheatleyp.html Poems on Various Subjects] Full-text searchable online at University of South Carolina libraries


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  • Phillis Wheatley — Phillis Wheatley. Frontispiz der Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, London 1773. Phillis Wheatley (* um 1753 vermutlich in der Region Senegambia, Westafrika; † 5. Dezember 1784 in Boston) war die erste afroamerikanische Dichterin,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Phillis Wheatley — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Retrato de Phillis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley (1753 – 5 de diciembre de 1784), fue la primera escritora afroamericana en publicar un libro en los Estados Unidos. Su obra Poems on Various Subjects …   Wikipedia Español

  • Phillis Wheatley — Phillis ou Phyllis Wheatley, née le 5 décembre 1753 et décédée en 1784, est la première poétesse noire américaine de renom. Son livre Poems on Various Subjects fut publié en 1773, trois ans avant le début de la Révolution américaine …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Phillis Wheatley — noun American poet (born in Africa) who was the first recognized Black writer in America (1753 1784) • Syn: ↑Wheatley • Instance Hypernyms: ↑poet …   Useful english dictionary

  • Phillis Wheatley — (1753 1784) black American slave and first major black writer in the United States …   English contemporary dictionary

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  • Wheatley, Phillis — (c. 1753 1784)    first published African American woman poet    Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, probably in what is now Gambia, and after being enslaved was transported to Boston, Massachusetts, and purchased in 1761 as a servant by… …   Encyclopedia of Protestantism


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