Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African Americans in the Revolutionary War

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Phillis Wheatley

Courtesy of Austin/Thompson Collection, by permission of University of Pennsylvania, Schoenberg Center.

Not all patriots were men who fought in the war. Phillis Wheatley was one of America's first poets, and the first African American woman to have her work published. Born in Africa, she took her name from the Phillis, the slave ship that brought her to Boston from her native Africa, and from her master, John Wheatley. Wheatley was an ardent supporter of freedom both for America and for enslaved Africans such as herself. She published a collection of poems in 1772, which included a work memorializing the Boston Massacre. Wheatley also wrote a poem in honor of George Washington that she mailed the piece to the commander in chief at his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When Washington replied enthusiastically with an invitation to visit him, Wheatley accepted and met with him for thirty to forty-five minutes in Cambridge. Washington also passed Wheatley's encomium on to a friend, and the poem was subsequently printed several times as an instrument for the patriot cause. Wheatley is shown here in a 1773 portrait by the African American engraver Scipio Moorhead, for the frontispiece of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.

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