Friday, May 4, 2012

Phillis Ever After


Historical research can be painful. I renewed my friendship with Phillis Wheatley this past week. Torn from her mother’s arms in Africa in the mid-18th century, she was brought to Colonial America and purchased by the Wheatleys, a family willing to treat the tiny girl with love and care. They educated her. She learned to read the Bible. She became a believer, and wrote incredible poems, had them published and gained her freedom and married another freed slave and bore 3 children.
Happy ending, right?

Oh no.

Few in America believed a black slave could write poetry so she had to have them published in England. When everyone in the Wheatley family died she was given her freedom and married another freed slave who couldn’t find work. After all, freed slaves were competing with colonists for work. Who do you think received preferential treatment?
Her husband spent his time dodging creditors.
Phillis, never strong, was left to seek work as a servant.
She kept writing poems and tried to get a second volume published but there was still no interest in America for the poems of a black woman.
Her health failed.
She watched 2 of her babies die.
She ended her life in extreme poverty and squalor and died at age 31 only a few hours before her last child followed her.

I read what Phillis wrote and realize that her unhappy ending was transformed into the happiest of ever afters.

On Being Brought From Africa to America

"Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd and join th'angelic train.  


Susan said...

Such a sad story. I didn't know her later life was such a struggle. It will be wonderful to meet her someday.

Lori Lipsky said...

Loved learning about Phillis Wheatley today from you. Thank you for sharing her poem and details of her short life.

Sue Vick Finley said...

It is a heart breaking story but so redemptive.