The Slave Poet

in Senegal in 1753 and kidnapped at the age of eight, Phillis had a rather
rocky start to life. She was bought as a household slave by a respected Boston
couple named Susanna and John Wheatley. The Wheatley family were quick to
discover that Phillis had a bright, active mind and set their eldest daughter
to work, teaching Phillis how to read, write, and decipher the ancient Latin
language. Phillis would even read the Bible aloud to guests who visited in the
Wheatley home, causing much admiration and surprise. Phillis also adored poetry
and gained widespread attention in the colonies after writing a poem in the
memory of a popular evangelist named George Whitefield. However, Phillis still
faced prejudice. Many doubted that a slave girl could pen such powerful poems. But
Phillis proved them wrong. After having trouble getting a new manuscript
published, a committee of leading Boston citizens interrogated Phillis, and
after finding that her work was indeed her own, they wrote a letter which
established her authorship. Later, Phillis traveled to England where compassionate
friends helped her to publish more poems, including a countess.

        In one of her
poems, Phillis described the American struggle for independence in connection
with the struggle of her own enslaved people. Phillis also compared the slavery
of Hebrews in ancient Egypt with the slavery of Blacks in colonial America. In
both cases, God’s children suffered by oppression, a lack of freedom, and harmful ideas about their identities and motives. 
hoped that slaves would be freed after the American Revolution since she felt
that the desire for liberty was rooted in the hearts of all Americans,
regardless of their skin color. After Susanna and John Wheatley died, Phillis
was freed and married John Peters. Phillis struggled to support her family during the food shortages and limited employment in the Revolutionary War years, and died in childbirth at a boarding house in 1784. Her legacy lives on through poetry which praised her
Creator and the foundation of a new republic in which freedom for all citizens
would eventually flourish.

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The Slave Poet

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