Phyllis Wheatley

“One I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye.”

In Phyllis Wheatley’s poem entitled On Being Brought From Africa to America, she wrote, “One I redemption neither sought nor knew / Some view our sable race with scornful eye.” (764). What is so striking about her poetry is that she speaks to the soul of every man and woman who sees the wrongs of slavery, but more importantly, she makes an argument to those who also felt subjugated by British rule.  By identifying with religion and politics as a slave, she addresses directly those who had long spoken out against slavery through religious texts, but she also spoke to humanity in asking them to relate to bondage.  Words like “pagan, savior, redemption, Christians, Negroes, Cain, and angelic” (764) further shows this is a religious poem.  But, what makes it different is that the author was a slave.  One might say that Wheatley’s education of learning Latin, reading, and writing also helped her to become who she was as a writer.  But, she also was allowed to write to people of influence which furthered pre-abolitionist causes.  The Reverend Samson Occum wrote in the Connecticut Gazette on February 11, 1774, “I have this Day received your obliging, kind Epistle, and am greatly satisfied with your Reasons respecting the negroes, and think highly reasonable what you offer in Vindication of their natural Rights” (Woodlief n.d.). The mention of natural rights seems to suggest that she had read religious and political authors who also preached of natural rights for all people.  The term was also used by Northern slaves asking for their freedoms before 1774 and was about the time Wheatley wrote her poem.  The phrase natural rights was well-known by 1776 since slaves were given their chance for freedoms to fight as soldiers during the Revolutionary War.  It is also a term appearing in the Declaration of Independence in regard to colonists.  Her ability to adapt to changes in both religious, political, and social changes showed why her ability as an author was so great.  She spoke to the conscience of the country by using language they identified with.  The textbook makes two observations.  First, it notes that she is the first Black published author who gave birth to the African American genre, but her gender also shows she was the first Black woman as well (764).  When people research genres, there are always those who gave birth to a type of poetry. But, more importantly, her story captivated the world.  Sold at the age of seven, she was lucky enough to learn to read and write.   Her importance to history showing that her words influenced people even before the 19th-century when abolitionist movements took place.  Her contributions to African American literature can not be denied.  But, more importantly, her contributions to American history and literature also defines her importance to the abolitionist movement that her poetry would later contribute.



Wheatley, Phyllis. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume A. 8th ed. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 764. Print.

Woodlief, Ann. On Phyllis Wheatley. VCU.edu. Etext.  (n.d). Retrieved on August 9, 2016,   http://archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/webtexts/Wheatley/philbio.htm



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