THE SAD STORY OF PHILLIS WHEATLEY, AFRICAN AMERICAN PIONEER POETESS,
This review is from: Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons (Paperback)
This well written book is the part fiction, part historical story of Phillis Wheatley. The author has obviously done a lot of research here and it helps to bring the tale to life.
While it is a good read for me the most important aspect was that the book remembers a remarkable girl who not only managed to make the most of circumstances that would have put out the light in most people, but she became a pioneer for black literature. Phillis deserves to be remembered and her poems are good enough to be read today.
Phillis was a black slave girl who took the name of the ship that carried her to America (The Phillis) and the man who bought her, taught her to read and encouraged her to write, the wealthy merchant John Wheatley. Her birth is not recorded but believed to be sometime in 1753. She died a free woman on December 5, 1784.
Many incorrectly belive her to be the first published African American port but she was in fact the second.
Wheatley's 'Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral', was published in 1773. The book was acclaimed by various people including President George Washington. She was very well known and even toured England. The Wheatley family who had owned her set her free in the same year following this poetic success, but Phillis chose to remain with them until the death of her former master. She married a free black man who was a grocer with whom she had three children, but he left her. Very sadly after overcoming so much in her life, she died poor and alone in a boarding house in 1784 at the young age of 31. She was making a meagre living as a seamstress and working on her second book of poetry but she could not find a publisher. This book was never published and is considered lost. She and her last surviving child who died together were buried in an unmarked grave.
There is not much about her own life in her poetry, she mainly wrote about famous personalities of the times and Christian themes. One of the few which refers to slavery is '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 Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic dye."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.'
This book has been out for sometime now and if you have not read it and are interested in American history, poetry or African American Literature then read it now!
I wanted to upload a photo of the statue of Phillis on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston which is a fine tribute to her, and part of the Boston Women's Memorial.
Those who enjoy reading this book might also wish to read another based upon a true story -
Slave Girl: The Diary of Clotee, Virginia, USA 1859 (My Story