going above and beyond
- Aug 20, 2010
The 1773 publication of Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral brought her fame, with figures such as George Washington praising her work. Wheatley also toured England and was praised in a poem by fellow African American poet Jupiter Hammon. Wheatley was emancipated by her owners after her poetic success, but stayed with the Wheatley family until the death of her former master and the breakup of his family.
Wheatley’s popularity as a poet both in the United States and England ultimately gained her freedom on October 18, 1773. She appeared before General George Washington at a poetry reading in March, 1776. She was a strong supporter of American independence, reflected in both poems and plays she wrote during the Revolutionary War.
She married a free black grocer named John Peters; they had two children who died as infants. Wheatley's husband abandoned her in 1784, when she was pregnant again. She struggled to support herself and had completed a second volume of poetry, but no publisher seemed interested in it.
She rarely mentions her own situation in her poems. One of the few which refers to slavery is "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 dye."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.´