Phillis Wheatley : A Slave 's Rebellion Essay
On July 11 1761, a recently kidnapped West African girl of seven or eight saw her journey into slavery end at the home of a Boston tailor and merchant named John Wheatley. She received her master’s surname, with her first name made Phillis—the very same name as the slave ship that carried her to Massachusetts. Her slavers, taken by her precocity and character, gave her an excellent Classical and Christian education. While a slave, Phillis Wheatley became a poet of international praise, read within the context of her life: that of a slave from Africa, of delicate health, marked by imagination and compassion, who is entirely dependent upon her slavers / patrons for her livelihood.
In a poem entitled to “His Excellency, George Washington”, she created a new vision: a classically inspired goddess figure whose sole purpose was freeing the Colonists from the yoke of British oppression. Wheatley called this goddess Columbia. She wrote her poem and sent it to Washington in October 1775, when his tenure as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army was barely six months old. His prospects for success were far from certain. In the poem she implored him: Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.
Literate colonists would have known of Columbia as a name for the colonies, dating from the 1730s. It’s used in a 1761 poem, by an unknown Harvard graduate and published in Boston, honoring the accession of George III:
Behold, Britannia! in thy favour’d…