Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Phyllis Wheatley

February is black history month so in honor of it, I have decided to do some biographies on some famous and some not so famous african/african americans. I hope you enjoy them.

This one is on Phyllis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley was born in 1753 somewhere in the Gambia which is modern day, Senegal. She was captured as a slave at the tender age of 7 and brought to America. How frightened she must have been and how devastating it must have been for her parents to lose their precious baby girl.

She was brought to Boston, Massachusetts on 7/11/1761 and purchased as a slave by John Wheatley, a prominent Boston Tailor and merchant. She was named for the slave ship Phillis that brought her to this land. Timothy Fitch, a Medford Slave Trader owned the schooner,"Phillis" and conducted business in several New England towns, including Boston, Salem, Nantucket and Medford. Fitch used his schooners in the Atlantic slave trade (the "Triangular Trade") to transport slaves, rum, molasses, and various other items which were taken to West Africa and used to buy African slaves for transport back to the Americas.

Click on map to see where Boston is located in proximity to the Atlantic ocean where the slave ship made its long journey from Africa with its precious human cargo.

His wife was Susannah Wheatley. Phyllis became her domestic servant. Mrs. Wheatley soon realized how bright young Phillis was and began teaching her to read and write. She excelled so much that Mrs. Wheatley and her daughter, Mary began teaching her foreign languages such as Latin, as well as history, geography, religion, and the Bible.

In 1773, "Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral", was published with the help of the Wheatleys which brought her fame but not so much fortune. She toured England and was praised in a poem by fellow African American poet, Jupiter Hammon.

Phillis’ poetry became known in the United States and abroad ultimately brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773. She appeared before General Washington in March, 1776 for her poetry and was a strong supporter of independence during the Revolutionary War.

After the death of the Wheatley family, she married a free black grocer named John Peters. This marriage resulted in three children, two of whom soon died. Sadly, her husband left her and Wheatley was forced to earn a living as a servant.

By 1784, she was living in a boarding house and, in December of that year, she and her remaining child died and were buried in an unmarked grave.

She died in poverty at the age of 31. Wheatley's third child died only a few hours after her death. At the time of her death, there was a second volume of poetry but neither it nor any other works of hers have ever been seen.

A sad end to a brillant mind. But we, must remember the legacy that Phyllis Wheatley left for both African American and young people in general. The lesson that should be learned is that no matter what obstacles that are presented before you, be it poverty, handicaps or whatever, you can rise above them and become the person that you were meant to be.

Here is a poem for you, Ms. Phyllis from me:

Long ago and in a distant land
Tragedy came and grabbed your hand

You were taken away in a blink of an eye
You were loaded on a ship and forced to lie

In the bowel of a ship so dark and gloom
Filled with tears & horror in a hope-starved room

An angel accompanied you as you were stolen away
And traveled across the ocean to a land far away

The angel put you in the care of those
Who taught you history, language, poetry and prose

It was this that brought you freedom and refuge from
The dark side of slavery that had fallen upon some

In the midst of darkness, a bright star will shine
With the aid of a God-sent angel and a brilliant mind

Alas, your angel has guided your soul to its final fate
In the presence of God Almighty via Heaven's Pearly Gates

Thine soul lives on, dear Phyllis in blissful and eternal peace
Lest your mortal memory and legacy, No, shall ever cease

Written by Karen Burney 02/05/08
(copyrighted material)

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