Phillis Wheatley

phillis wheatley side portrait

Phillis Wheatley

At Rap Remnant, we’re all about Christian Hip Hop. Christian Hip Hop, started from the Black struggle in America- a response to oppressive tactics in America’s public and private spheres. In 1619, the first slaves from Africa arrived in what is now the United States of America.

Phillis Wheatley was the first publicly recognized Black poet. In 1773, the same year as the Boston Tea Party, Phillis Wheatley released a volume of poetry entitled, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Wheatley’s poems often reflected around Christian themes and imagery that reflected her faith. Her poetry, influenced by Alexander Pope and John Milton, took the form of traditional heroic couplets. A traditional heroic couplet is composed of a series of two rhyming lines and is one of the oldest kinds of English poetry. An example of her poetry, from her eulogy General David Wooster:

But how presumptuous shall we hope to find
Divine acceptance with the Almighty mind
While yet o deed ungenerous they disgrace
And hold in bondage Afric: blameless race
Let virtue reign and then accord our prayers
Be victory ours and generous freedom theirs.

In this poem, Phillis Wheatley is highly criticizing Americans, who were fighting the British for freedom, for confessing Christianity but oppressing Black people. Despite Wheatley’s ability to read and write, she was still a slave. Her last name was given to her by John Wheatley, her owner, who bought her in 1761.

In disbelief that a slave could be so intelligent, Phillis Wheatley was forced to appear before a group of public leaders to prove she wrote the poems. Even one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the one and only John Hancock, vouched for her validity.

phillis wheatley poem

A Complete List of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems

Given the time period, it’s quite remarkable that we even know of Phillis Wheatley. As a young girl, she was stolen from Africa and survived the slave ship. Suffering from asthma, many thought that Phillis Wheatley was damaged goods. Despite her frailty, John Wheatley bought her as a servant for his wife, Susanna. Phillis stayed close to Mrs. Wheatley and Mrs. Wheatley taught Phillis the bible, how to read and how to write.

At 29 years old, Phillis Wheatley passed away as a free woman. She met our Heavenly Father after a failed marriage left her with crippling debt, a small stream of royalties that couldn’t provide for her and her three children and working as a seamstress to make ends meet. Her short life was filled by glorifying God and impressing leaders of the Free World despite the struggles, pain and mistreatment that came with the life of a slave.

phillis wheatley statue

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