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America's History in the Making

Resource Archive: Search Results

Excerpted from To the Right Honourable William

While in thine hand with pleasure we behold The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold. Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies She shines supreme, while hated faction dies: Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desir'd, Sick at the view, she languish'd and expir'd; Thus from the splendors of the morning light The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.

No more, America, in mournful strain Of wrongs, and grievance unredress'd complain, No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain, Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand Had made, and with it meant t' enslave the land.

Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song, Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung, Whence flow these wishes for the common good, By feeling hearts alone best understood, I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat: What pangs excruciating must molest, What sorrows labour in my parent's breast? Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd: Such, such my case. And can I then but pray Others may never feel tyrannic sway?

For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due, And thee we ask thy favours to renew, Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before, To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore.

Phillis Wheatley, "To the Right Honourable William, earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North-America, &c, "Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral (1773). Courtesy the University of Oregon, http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/wheatley.html.

Creator Phillis Wheatley
Context Wheatley had just been freed and she hoped to influence the Earl of Dartmouth, an influential British policy maker.
Audience The Earl of Dartmouth
Purpose To persuade the Earl of Dartmouth to respect the colonies' rights

Historical Significance

Born in the Senegal area of West Africa and enslaved at age seven, Phillis Wheatley was purchased by a Boston tailor in 1761. She took advantage of opportunities to read and write, and proved to be extraordinarily gifted and determined. In 1771, though still in her teens, she became the first published African American, and her poetry became well known in North America and England.

Wheatley corresponded with several prominent people on both sides of the Atlantic, including George Washington. She wrote the poem reproduced below in 1773, around the time her owners freed her, to the new Secretary of State for the colonies, the Earl of Dartmouth, a man who would have a great deal to say about political relations between Great Britain and the colonies. Wheatley's poem was politically motivated.

Steeped in the classics, Wheatley's emotionally restrained style was characteristic of the period's high literature.

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