Phillis Wheatley was brought to New England in 1761 to be a slave. While not every detail of Phillis' life is known, she is considered to have had a good life for someone who was legally property. The Wheatleys encouraged her education and later her career as a poet. After learning to read, Phillis used her literacy to study the Bible as well as stay abreast on current events. As a result, Phillis became a Christian and a young woman very knowledgeable in the country's fight against Great Britain for their independence. She could not help but notice the contradictory nature of Christian colonists trying to obtain freedom from Britain while holding slavery throughout the colonies. In many appeals to the king as well as pro-independence literature spread throughout the colonies, there is an abundance of liberty rhetoric. Perhaps this inconsistency in perspective is partly due to the fact that the status of African Americas in New England was unique in nature.
[...] Despite Phillis life as a published poet, she does separate herself from other slaves. The prayers and the victory is This is a strong statement because it reminds Phillis' readership of her enslaved status. Reading her work, surely sometimes it was possible to forget that she was a slave. Perhaps that could have worked in her favor in some cases, but Philis would rather align herself with others who were taken from Africa. From the modern day perspective, it is easy to write Phillis Wheatley off as someone who fully assimilated in her society and enjoyed the privileges of her life. [...]
[...] While Susanna precept and example, instructed Phillis in puritanical Christian piety and genteel decorum.”[iv] By doing this Susanna was creating a social life for Phillis as she would visit among ladies of Boston's first families, holding forth on “female topics.” The other activities Phillis engaged in was reading or writing her “poetic performances” before guests, or close beside Susanna reading and discussing the Bible.[v] In all of these activities, “genteel decorum” was the key. Because Boston was such a different environment for Phillis she would never have been able to have poetry readings and thrive in elite social circles without the behavioral teachings of Susanna. [...]
[...] Despite the uniqueness of slavery in New England and the privileges of Phillis' life, she used her writing to address slavery time and time again. Notes 1. Thomas Jefferson, “Declaration of the Necessity to Take Up Arms.” 60- Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998) Julian D. Mason Jr., The Poems of Phillis Wheatley (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989) William H. Robinson, Phillis Wheatley and Her Writings (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984) Robinson Gary Nash, Race and Revolution (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1990) Ibid Jupiter Hammon, in Nash Mason (Italics are hers, not mine.) 10. [...]
[...] Lynn Matson contends that Phillis “considered herself extremely fortunate in being brought to America,” not because of her treatment, because America is where she discovered Jesus Christ.”[x] Given this information the first four lines seem to be straightforward. Before discovering Christ, Phillis never contemplated redemption. From learning to read and understand the Bible as well as the lessons on piety and genteel decorum from the Wheatley women, Phillis took great pride in her religious beliefs. Therefore it appeared in her poetry time and time again. [...]
[...] In the first portion the America Phillis is describing sounds like an ideal place to live. Conditions were less than desirable in the past, but no more “iron chain”, “tyranny” and “lawless hand.” In the second portion Phillis ventures into the past and brings herself into the poem. Read in its entirety, her implementation of her own experience fits right in. It seems only natural that being an enslaved woman Phillis would talk about herself. What is really heart wrenching is her mention of her parents. [...]
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