Hi everyone, hope you are all okay. This week’s blog is to do with Black History Month. I think it is important to celebrate the lives of those who changed the world, despite adversity and all of the bad events that occurred in their lives, some managed to achieve their status as being the first black author or poet, to the first politician, from the first Mathematician to the first Aviator, and there is so many more that have overcome bigotry, racism and being slaves, etc…
Phillis Wheatley was to become a first as she was to become the first African American female poet that got published. Phillis was born in Senegal or Gambia in 1753. As a young child of eight she was brought over to the United States as a slave in 1761 on a ship which she had boarded called ‘The Phillis.’
She was then bought by a wealthy family in Boston and it was there she was given their surname Wheatley. No-one knows her real name, so she was given the name Phillis by the Wheatley family because that was the name on the ship that had brought her over to the states.
The Wheatley family soon became aware of how bright and intelligent she was, and even though it is not common for slaves, especially female slaves to be educated, that Susanna and her children helped to educate her. She proved to be an outstanding student, which she excelled in numerous subjects and prove to be an excellent scholar and the Wheatley’s had encouraged her to pursue writing and had allowed her to abandon her slave duties. It was not until 1773 her book of poems of various subjects that catapulted her to stardom as she became the most famous African American in the world at that time.
- The Wheatley’s names were John and Susanna Wheatley.
- Phillis had been kidnapped as an eight-year-old in Africa and brought to America to be sold. She was brought over to Boston on an enslaved person ship.
- She was purchased as a slave by John Wheatley, for his wife Susanna, even though she was in poor health.
- She couldn’t speak any English when she came to the Wheatley family.
- African Americans were discouraged and intimidated from learning how to read and write.
- Even though she was supposed to be a slave for Susanna, it was Susanna who chose to educate the young girl, even though Phillis’ health was not particularly good, but her intelligence was difficult to ignore.
- Susanna Wheatley and her husband John, and their own children all played a role in Phillis’ education. They taught her to read and write and she studied Latin, Greek, English, Ancient history, literature, and mythology.
- By the time Phillis was 12 she published her first poem. It was published in the Newport Mercury. Its title was On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin.
- Her only book was titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Publishers in America did not want to publish the book because it was written by a slave.
- Susanna Wheatley used her connections in England to get Phillis’ book published. It became popular in England and soon it became popular in America in the Thirteen Colonies as well.
- While Phillis Wheatley was the first African American to have a book of poems published, she was also the first slave to have one published as well. She was only the 3rd American woman to have a book of poems published.
- She was invited to George Washington’s house for a private reading of her poem “To His Excellency, George Washington”.
- Phillis was the first African American woman to make a living from her writings.
- Phillis traveled to London, England to promote her work, but when she returned to America several of the Wheatley’s had died. Susanna died in 1774 and John died in 1778, followed by Mary Wheatley (John and Susanna’s daughter) the same year.
- When John Wheatley died Phillis was freed, according to his will.
- Phillis tried to publish another book that was unsuccessful. Because her work often included subjects on the Revolutionary War, when it ended her career floundered as well.
- Phillis married John Peters with whom she had three children. Two of them died in infancy.
- Phillis’ husband was incarcerated for debt and sent to debtors’ prison in 1784, and Phillis was left to work as a maid in a boarding house to support her infant son.
- Phillis Wheatley died in poverty at the age of 31, on December 5th, 1784. Her son died a few hours later.
On Imagination is one of Phillis Wheatley’s poems
Thy various works, imperial queen, we see,
How bright their forms! how deck’d with pomp by thee!
Thy wond’rous acts in beauteous order stand,
And all attest how potent is thine hand.
From Helicon’s refulgent heights attend,
Ye sacred choir and my attempts befriend:
To tell her glories with a faithful tongue,
Ye blooming graces, triumph in my song.
Now here, now there, the roving Fancy flies,
Till some lov’d object strikes her wand’ring eyes,
Whose silken fetters all the senses bind,
And soft captivity involves the mind.
Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.
Though Winter frowns to Fancy’s raptur’d eyes
The fields may flourish, and gay scenes arise;
The frozen deeps may break their iron bands,
And bid their waters murmur o’er the sands.
Fair Flora may resume her fragrant reign,
And with her flow’ry riches deck the plain;
Sylvanus may diffuse his honours round,
And all the forest may with leaves be crown’d:
Show’rs may descend, and dews their gems disclose,
And nectar sparkle on the blooming rose.
Such is thy pow’r, nor are thine orders vain,
O thou the leader of the mental train:
In full perfection all thy works are wrought,
And thine the sceptre o’er the realms of thought.
Before thy throne the subject-passions bow,
Of subject-passions sov’reign ruler thou;
At thy command joy rushes on the heart,
And through the glowing veins the spirits dart.
Fancy might now her silken pinions try
To rise from earth, and sweep th’ expanse on high:
From Tithon’s bed now might Aurora rise,
Her cheeks all glowing with celestial dies,
While a pure stream of light o’erflows the skies.
The monarch of the day I might behold,
And all the mountains tipt with radiant gold,
But I reluctant to leave the pleasing views,
Which Fancy dresses to delight the Muse;
Winter austere forbids me to aspire,
And northern tempests damp the rising fire;
They chill the tides of Fancy’s flowing sea,
Cease then, my song, cease the unequal lay.
Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read my blog. See you all next week.