Thursday, January 13, 2011

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley (1753 – December 5, 1784) Known as the first African-American woman in United States history to have her poetry published.

Brought, in 1761, on a slave ship from Africa to the Boston slave market, and purchased by Mrs. John Wheatley.a benevolent and cultured lady. When bought she was thin and sick from a rough, tedious sea voyage, for her constitution was delicate at best. Impressed by her intelligent countenance and modest demeanor, she was selected from a large number of slaves.

It was the intention at first to teach her the duties of a house servant; but clean clothing and good food wrought such a change for the better, that her mistress decided to instruct her in letters. She was only eight years old and proved a very apt pupil; in less than a year and a half she had mastered the English language sufficiently well to read the most difficult portions of the Bible. She also mastered writing with equal ease, and in four years from the time she was taken out of the slave market could carry on an interesting correspondence upon many topics. Her amiable disposition and budding intellect attracted the attention of the refined and cultured of Boston, who gave her encouragement by lending her books and conversing with her upon literary subjects. Having acquired a fairly good English education, she began the study of Latin, and soon became so proficient that she made an admirable translation of one of Ovid's tales, which was published in Boston and republished in England, where it was heartily commended by many of the reviews.

Phillis WheatleyTitle: Poems on various subjects, religious and moral. Author: Phillis Wheatley. Publisher: W.H. Lawrence, 1887. Original from: Princeton University. Digitized: Apr 3, 2009. Length: 149 pages. Subjects: Poetry / American / General Poetry / General

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When asked what she remembered about her home in Africa she replied, "Nothing except the fact that every morning my mother poured out water before the rising sun" She could not help but contrast this with the worship of the true and only living God, andthis child of Ahica became deeply pious. In 1770, at the age of sixteen, she was happily converted and united with the congregation at the "Old South Meetinghouse." Four years afterwards, her master manumitted her. But the New England climate was too severe for one of her studious and sedentary habits, with delicate constitution, and she began to go into a decline. At the suggestion of eminent physicians, her adopted mother, for such she proved herself to be, sent her on a voyage to England, in care of her son,who wasgoing on business. Some years previous to this Phillis had developed a great talent for poetry, which she had cultivated to the utmost. Indeed her reputation was well established, and had preceded her to England. Her rare conversational powers and charming demeanor took London by stcrm.

Soon the nobility, thoughtful people, and press, united in extolling the name of Phillis Wheatley, the African poetess.

Her poems were first published in Boston in 1770. But her admiring friends prevailed upon her to bring out a second and better edition in London in 1773. This was a small octavo volume of about one hundred and twenty pages, comprising thirty-nine pieces. It was dedicated to the Countess of Huntingdon, and contained a picture of the poetess, and a letter of recommendation signed by the governor and lit r tenant governor of Massachusetts, with many other reliable citizens of Boston, including her master; establishing the fact that all the poems contained in the book were written by Phillis. For the poems were so excellent, strangers were disposed to question their originality.

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