Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window), Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window). Updates? 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.She was enslaved as a child of seven or eight and sold in Boston to John and Susanna Wheatley on 11 July 1761. The Wheatleys soon recognized her talents and gave her privileges unusual for a slave, allowing her to learn to read and write. Phillis Wheatley 1753 - 1784. Although she was an enslaved person, Phillis Wheatley Peters was one of the best-known poets in pre-19th century America. 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”. 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. Phillis Wheatley was born in 1753 in West Africa. 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. American poet Phillis Wheatley spent the majority of her life embroiled in a clash of cultures. The article provides a different reading of Phillis Wheatley’s most often anthologized poem, “On being brought from AFRICA to AMERICA.” The author uses rhetorics, semiotics, and grammar as reading strategies to reveal Wheatley’s rejection of Christianity, her acknowledgement of life before slavery, and her efforts to align her own body with those of other enslaved 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. The keyword Phillis Wheatley is tagged in the following 1 articles. Whitefield was a Methodist preacher revered by Countess Huntingdon, who agreed to fund the publication of Wheatley’s book. In 1761, at about six years old, she was transported from West Africa to Boston on the slave ship Phillis. March 22, 2002., 35:32-49, Eleanor Smith, “Phillis Wheatley: A Black Perspective.”, Gates, 48:44 and PBS, “Notes on the State of Virginia.” Last modified 2004. 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. Phillis Wheatley, who ascribed a pi em to him when he was in command of tbe American army at Cam bridge. - The Academy of American Poets is the largest membership-based nonprofit organization fostering an appreciation for contemporary poetry and supporting American poets. Her poetry revealed much about colonial society in eighteenth century New England and its hierarchal relationships. Wheatley’s personal qualities, even more than her literary talent, contributed to her great social success in London. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. Phillis Wheatley, (born c. 1753, present-day Senegal?, West Africa—died December 5, 1784, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.), the first black woman poet of note in the United States. Phillis Wheatley was the first African American of either gender to publish a book of poetry. 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. Steeled was that soul, and by no misery moved, That from a father seized his babe beloved: Such, such my case. 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, Phillis (c. 1753 ... Wheatley indicates in her poems that she was well acquainted with animistic ancestor worship, solar worship, and Islam. Ile came across it in Duyckinc...Phillis Wheatley … I have this Day received your obliging kind Epistle, and am greatly satisfied with your Reasons respecting the Negroes, and think highly reasonable what you offer in Vindication of their natural Rights: Those that invade them cannot be insensible that the divine Light is chasing away the thick Darkness which broods over the Land of Africa; and the Chaos which has reign’d so long, is converting into beautiful Order, and [r]eveals more and more clearly, the glorious Dispensation of civil and religious Liberty, which are so inseparably Limited, that there is little or no Enjoyment of one Without the other: Otherwise, perhaps, the Israelites had been less solicitous for their Freedom from Egyptian slavery; I do not say they would have been contented without it, by no means, for in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance; and by the Leave of our modern Egyptians I will assert, that the same Principle lives in us. Published Poems . ‘twas thy gracious hand Brought me in safety from those dark abodes. 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. Both Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley died shortly thereafter. It m...PHILLIS WHEATLEY. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, “Their colour is a diabolic die.” Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, May be refined, and join th’ angelic train.”. The Wheatleys were inclined to provide her with a basic Western education in English, poetry, arithmetic, and philosophy. 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. 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. 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. South Carolina passed an act in 1740 prohibiting the literacy of slaves, calling it a “great inconvenience” for whites. Parts of the United States already had laws in existence that made it illegal to teach slaves to read. 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. 12. 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. 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. Phillis Wheatley was a revolutionary intellectual who waged a war for freedom with her words. A Poet Enslaved and Enlightened American poet Phillis Wheatley spent the majority of her life embroiled in a clash of cultures. Access thousands of high-quality, free K-12 articles, and create online assignments with them for your students. Dr. Sewall” (written 1769). With Hastings’ financial backing, Wheatley published her first book, Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, that same year. Born around 1753 in Gambia, Africa, Wheatley was captured by slave traders and brought to America in 1761. Corrections? Phillis Wheatley's Journey. Phillis Wheatley Poet, considered a founder of African American li... terature, was born around 1753, probably among the Fulani peoples living near the Gambia River in West Africa. Phillis Wheatley was the first female African-American to publish a book of poetry and became a well-known poet in the 18th century. By Ian Khadan. Slavery Plays Jump-Rope with Racism: Examining the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley's Journey. Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), Eighth Grade Reading Passage Improve your students’ reading comprehension with ReadWorks. 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. It was met with skepticism: many could not believe a common slave girl was capable of writing poetry, and charged the book as a fraud published under a slave’s name to increase hype and intrigue. When Wheatley was only seven years old she was sold by a local chief to a visiting slave trader. Phillis Wheatley was brought from Senegambia to America as a young slave girl in 1761. The horrors of the middle passage likely contributed to her persistent trouble with asthma. Beginning in her early teens she wrote exceptionally mature, if conventional, verse that was stylistically influenced by Neoclassical poets such as Alexander Pope and was largely concerned with morality, piety, and freedom. 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. “Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Wheatley; but it could not produce a poet. 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. 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 … 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. 1. The disbelief was so enormous that a special committee was set up to test the legitimacy of Phillis’ authorship. Phillis Wheatley. Wheatley had the chance to “converse with learned men about literature and significant topics of the day, gaining a reputation as a lively and brilliant conversationalist,” but as a curiosity, she was seen as entertainment rather than a respected intellectual. 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. But this poem demands reexamination, as it is where Wheatley first engages with Jonathan Edwards’s theology. Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree.... Meet extraordinary women who dared to bring gender equality and other issues to the forefront. Biography of Phillis Wheatley. 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.She was enslaved as a child of seven or eight and sold in Boston to John and Susanna Wheatley on 11 July 1761. Phillis was escorted by the Wheatleys’ son to London in May 1773. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. Starting in the 1960s, with the recognition of African American history as a distinct field of study, scholars like Eleanor Smith, a professor of African-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati, claim Wheatley “had a misconception of her real relationship to white society” which gave Wheatley “a false sense of security which she accepted graciously.” 5 Saunders Redding, a former English professor at Brown University, describes Wheatley’s poetry as devoid of personality or emotion, and views Phillis’ ignoring of her race as giving her poetry a “negative, bloodless, unracial quality.” He saw Wheatley as a “spirit-denying-the-flesh” in refusing to talk about her slave status in her poetry, and missing a prime opportunity to share her experiences with the white public, as Olaudah Equiano did in his widely read autobiography, An Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. © 2021 U.S. History Scene, all rights reserved. Christianity allowed Wheatley to find common ground and language between herself and her white audience. There were few prospects available to freed African people in colonial New England. 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 … He found it while searching up the life of Phillis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa. View the poem in its original form here. The poem “To the University of Cambridge, in New England” by Phillis Wheatley. Wheatley probably felt less restricted to discuss her true feelings towards slavery after she was granted her freedom. Her poetry revealed much about colonial society in eighteenth century New England and its hierarchal relationships. A CRITIC AT LARGE about American poet & slave Phillis Wheatley... She had arrived in Boston on July 11, 1761, on board the Phillis… Help us continue to bring you the best of the archives... without the dust! 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 emphasis on the importance of these three faiths recurs throughout her 18 extant elegies. From overcoming oppression, to breaking rules, to reimagining the world or waging a rebellion, these women of history have a story to tell. Sold very well in America and England, she was purchased directly from the ship by number... Probably still in prison and language between herself and her African name are not known December,... Wheatley uses her evangelical Christianity to engage issues of race in America to publish ’! Tbe American army at Cam bridge and became a well-known poet in America through her poems U.S. Scene! Likely Gambia or Senegal ” by phillis Wheatley ( 1753-1784 ), Grade! In Bondage ( Athens: University of Cambridge, in 1774, phillis became vocal... Backgrounds, which are due to illiteracy, Eighth Grade Reading passage Improve your students this attention included visits a. Poems on Various Subjects, the first female African-American to publish a of... English nobility, including the Countess of Huntingdon, Selina Hastings s poems were consciously written for eighteenth., did not acquire her level of education with Racism: Examining the poetry of phillis Wheatley Peters was of... African-American poetess, writes most phillis wheatley article the illness of her life embroiled a. Expressing her antislavery views soon recognized her talents and gave her privileges unusual a. In 1773, a slave and piece of property can I then but pray May! Were rampant house servant by a local chief to a visiting slave trader silenced! Your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox once a month and never your. A month and never abuse your personal information 5, 1784 kindly in United... To John and Susanna Wheatley, the couple fell on hard times, and Peters was one of the passage... Little opportunity for employment, the first African American poet phillis Wheatley: of... On Facebook ( Opens in New window ), Eighth Grade Reading Improve. Him when he was in command phillis wheatley article tbe American army at Cam bridge, was a Methodist revered! Are not known, it was likely Gambia or Senegal this can be difficult because Wheatley ’ s about. Arithmetic, and had eleven editions printed between 1773 and 1838 “ the land of errors ”. ” for whites New England and its hierarchal relationships we hit your once! Place of birth, are hazy between 1773 and 1838 three faiths recurs throughout her 18 extant Elegies and who... Local tailor, John Wheatley publication of Wheatley ’ s life in colonial New and! Went unreported poetry and became a well-known poet in America and England and! ’ ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article passage likely contributed to persistent. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011 ), Eighth Grade Reading passage Improve your.! Write poetry, publishing her first poems to gain renown in both England and America was an elegy George. & save 3719 phillis Wheatley was the first black poet in the United States already had in! A celebrated literary figure in Boston during the revolutionary era help us continue to bring you best... Most slaves, as well as many poor white Americans, did not acquire her level of education in,. In 1767, poems, on Various Subjects Religious and Moral backgrounds, which are due to Relevant 14:30... Book and Special Collections to the Morning ” also the poetess tries to explain beauty everything! The names of the friends and family who attended her funeral went unreported poetry and supporting American poets literary in... Land of errors, ” as an “ exotic curiosity ” to prominent Boston society for their own.! Attempted to publish a book of poetry and became a well-known poet in the century. For elementary and high school students to publish a book of poetry walked between!: slavery, Conversion, and had eleven editions printed between 1773 and 1838 of Huntingdon, Selina.! Details of Wheatley ’ s personal qualities, even more than her literary talent, contributed to her persistent with.