WOMAN of ACTION – PHILLIS WHEATLEY *Tribute

 

A Celebration of Women

has been inspired today, in honor of Children’s Week in Australia, (another land built on slavery) to pay Tribute to this Woman, and Celebrate her Life! At the age of 7 was uprooted from her home, and as a child, was taken to a strange land for the purpose of slavery. This Tribute shares that Grace and Divine Intervention can take place anywhere, anytime and at any hand. This little girl once landed in the hands of the Wheatley family, was never used as a slave; rather was raised as one of their own children. Her future was that of a poet, one that was an integral part of our History in the abolishment of slavery, incorporating as a cause for the fear of the African American. She makes references of Paganism vs. Christianity; nothing to do with the color of the skin.

Thank God for her courage to write down her life, that we Celebrate this Day!

 

 

  

WOMAN of ACTION

 

 

Phillis Wheatley

‘Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land,
Taught my beknighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought not knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their color is a diabolic dye.”
Remember Christians; Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.


-Phyllis Wheatley’s On Being Brought from Africa to America.

 

America’s first African American poet, Phyllis Wheatley, was born in 1753 in Senegal, Africa. When she was seven years old, she was taken from Africa to the colonies of America and sold to John and Susannah Wheatley in Boston, Massachusetts. She was first going to be the attendent to Susannah as well as a servant, but instead she was raised as one of the Wheatley’s children.

The Wheatley’s taught Phyllis how to write and read English and at age 12, she was reading Latin and Greek classics and the bible. Phyllis wrote her first poem at age 13. Phillis Wheatley’s first published work was a poem entitled “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” which appeared on December 21, 1767, in a newspaper called the Newport Mercury:

“Did Fear and Danger so perplex your Mind,
As made you fearful of the Whistling Wind?
Was it not Boreas knit his angry Brow
Against you? or did Consideration bow?”

Phillis was most likely able to get this work published thanks to the connections of Susanna and John Wheatley. The poem is a microcosm of her works, combining Christian piety and Classical allusion. This poem also exemplifies a common structure in Phillis Wheatley’s poems, where she talks to those who had died, or the family members she left behind. When addressing the family members of the dead, she usually incorporates religion and tells them not to mourn but to be happy, for their loved one(s) are now in heaven with God. In the following years, Phillis published a number of poems in various publications.  Wheatley’s big break, however, came in the form of her 1770 funeral elegy addressed to the Countess of Huntingdon, on the death of her chaplain, Rev. George Whitefield. This elegy was published in London and Boston and brought Phillis Wheatley considerable fame.

In 1770, Phyllis wrote a poem on evangelist George Whitefield’s death. This turned her into a Boston sensation and in 1773, she published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, a collection of 39 of her poems. Most of them she wrote in heroic couplet and contained elegies.

 

It was the first book by an African American to be published.

Eventually, Phyllis received her freedom, and in 1778, she married a free African American man. History does not present us with a consistent account of just who John Peters really was. It is not clear whether Peters was a well-educated, self-righteous man who did not do well simply because of the circumstances of being an African-American in colonial times, or if Peters was a ne’er-do-well who could not support Phillis and their three children. Regardless, after six years of marriage, by 1784, two of Wheatley’s three children had already perished due to illness, while Phillis and her last daughter’s health were in decline. Wheatley, unable to get further volumes of her poetry published, was relegated to becoming a scullery maid at a boarding house. She died in poverty, but that wasn’t the end of her influence. In the 1830’s, abolitionists used her poetry as proof that slavery should be abolished.

The influence of Phillis Wheatley’s work has grown extensively throughout the years. During her life, Phillis Wheatley’s writings were read and praised across North America and parts of Europe. To this day Wheatley’s talent in composition and expression continue to be marveled, along with her incredible mastery of the English language, which occurred in such a short period of time.

For many, Phillis Wheatley stood as an example of talent and inspiration for African-Americans in the United States.

 

 

A Celebration of Women

sends our eternal gratitude for the courage of this woman.

 

 

Rest in Peace, Phyliss!

 

 

 

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