The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia has just lately acquired an authentic April 1, 1774 Connecticut Journal newspaper reprinting a letter from just lately manumitted poet Phillis Wheatley to Mohegan Indian poet and Presbyterian minister Reverend Samson Occom.
The letter foregrounds the contradiction between the beliefs invoked on the nation’s founding and the realities of slavery. Working in a storied custom of resistance writing in america, Wheatley invokes the identical lofty rules of freedom and equality that justified the revolution to argue for common rights fairly than simply for a choose few.
Born in West Africa, Wheatley was enslaved as a toddler and transported to Boston, the place she served the household of service provider and tailor John Wheatley. She was taught to learn and write by members of the Wheatley household, terribly uncommon for an enslaved lady on the time. By the point she was 18 years previous, she was already looking for to publish a group of 28 poems in Boston and London, quickly changing into the primary African American writer to publish a e book of poetry.
Wheatley had exchanged letters with Occum starting in 1765, when she was solely 11 years previous. Occum, who was 30 years her senior, was an itinerant preacher who first transformed to Christianity through the Nice Awakening and have become the primary Native American to put in writing an autobiography. Capable of learn and converse in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Occom absolutely would have been a beacon to the younger Wheatley, who had embarked on an uncommon schooling within the Bible, English literature, and Greek and Latin classics.
Wheatley’s poetry typically celebrated profound love for the nascent nation but castigated it for its backwardness in perpetuating the establishment of slavery. Thick with Biblical allusions, Wheatley’s writing typically additionally urged the nation to reckon with whether or not it was dwelling as much as Christian rules.
Within the letter revealed by the Connecticut Journal, Wheatley casts disgrace on the enterprise of slavery by boldly evaluating enslavement in America to pagan historical Egypt: “maybe, the Israelites had been much less solicitous for his or her Freedom from Egyptian Slavery: I don’t say they might have been contented with out it, by no Means, for in each human Breast, God has implanted a Precept, which we name Love of freedom; it’s impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance; and by the Go away of our trendy Egyptians I’ll assert that the identical Precept lives in us.”
Wheatley wrote about her want to persuade revolutionary colonists of “the unusual Absurdity of their Conduct whose Phrases and actions are so diametrically, reverse.”
The newspaper reprint will be a part of a signed first version copy of Wheatley’s 1773 assortment Poems on Varied Topics, Non secular and Ethical — the primary e book of poetry by an African American lady — which is presently additionally on view on the Museum of the American Revolution.
“What was so highly effective for us for this newspaper printing of this letter is it’s a correspondence between two individuals of coloration on the eve of the outbreak of the conflict, reflecting on the nice contradiction that’s on the coronary heart of the founding, which is a battle for liberty, in an period wherein chattel slavery continues to be practiced,” President of the Museum of the American Revolution Dr. R. Scott Stephenson advised Hyperallergic. He known as it “uncommon” for a newspaper on the time to publish writing like this in its pages.