Slave Girl Phillis Wheatley and Her Amazing Life and Works
Phillis Wheatley, born in 1753 in Senegal, West Africa, was a woman of uncanny talent and intelligence, Kidnapped in her homeland and sold as a slave in 1761 while still a child, her wit and talent garnered her special attention by her owners, John and Susanna Wheatley who treated her as one of their own children, and most importantly, they took the unusual step of teaching her to read and nurture her special talent as a poet. Phillis Wheatly then went on to dazzle the Bostonian gentry with her poetry and her mastery of Greek and Latin and her translations of many classical works, Thus, in essence, she began to challenge the racial stereotypes of early American history.
Her first poem was to be published in 1767 and was entitled Messrs. Hussy and Coffin, a poem in which Wheatley encourages two men not to trust God and to not fear the sea, and most of her work was highly moral and spiritual in theme. However, her most important poem, for all intents and purposes was “On Being Brought from Africa to America” a work that very gently pricked the colonial American conscience and laid some ground work for the Abolitionist Movement many years hence. Yet the the poem is also an expression of the Poet’s basic shame and modesty about not being born White, no doubt, making the gentle rebuke of the poem more palatable to Americans of that present day.
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 Savior too:
Once redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their color is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and joined the’ angelic train.
Phillis Wheatley was a devout Christian who reminds us here that both Black and White Christians are on an equal footing in the sight of God, thus making both races truly equal, a radical thought in her day.
After her debut in America and the publication of her first book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, Phillis traveled with the Wheatleys England where the venerable Poetess also bedazzled crowds in London both with her social grace and mental prowess and upon return to America she was set free by the Wheatleys shortly before they both died when she married another freed slave named John Peters. But he in turn left her in poverty, and she died shortly afterwards in childbirth on December 5, 1784 but not without leaving a lasting legacy for all American.