Tuesday, October 18

Ode to Phillis

On this date in history, my Dear Friend Phillis Wheatley was finally freed from slavery.
Momma's Phillis Wheatley

Phillis was the first published African American poet and first African-American woman whose writing was published. Probably born in Gambia, Senegal, she was made a slave when she was about 7-years-old. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry.

Phillis' intelligence and writing was an astonishment to many white people and she had to
prove in court (including John Hancock) in 1772 that she was smart enough to write! Their signed attestation was later published in the preface of her book

Phillis visited England for five weeks in 1773 (accompanying her master's son) where admirers of her poetry raised the funds for the publication of her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. (The book was published in London because Boston publishers refused to.) 

Although relatively well treated by her owners, Phillis was finally freed on Oct. 18, 1773 and she married about three months later. However, her husband was imprisoned for debt in 1784 and she became ill and died on Dec. 5, 1784.

Phillis had to be careful what she said or wrote but stated in her July 1778 poem, On the Death of General Wooster:

But how, presumptuous shall we hope to find
Divine acceptance with th' Almighty mind—
While yet (O deed Ungenerous!) they disgrace
And hold in bondage Afric's blameless race?

I like to think I look a little like her.

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