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March 5, 2018 35 mins

Perceptions and interpretations of Phillis Wheatley's life and work have shifted since the 18th century. This episode examines Wheatley's published writing while enslaved, and how her place in the world of black literature rose, fell, and rose again.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to steph you missed in history class from how
Stuff Works dot Com. Hello, and welcome to the podcast.
I'm Tracy V. Wilson and I'm Holly Fry. So I've
had the same experience multiple times over the last year

(00:21):
or so, which is that I've been walking through museum
or a library and I've seen an exhibit on Phillis
Sweetly and thought we really should do a podcast episode
on her now. Then that keeps happening for at least
a year, while for various reasons, other topics wind up
up at the top of the list. So Phillis Sweetly
is somebody who's basic biography I learned about and whose

(00:44):
work I read in school. But it was only when
I got into the research for today's show that I
realized how very, very incomplete a lot of that was,
and how dramatically people's perceptions and their interpretations of her
life and work have shifted since eighteenth century. I mean,
people have thought wildly different things about Phillis Sweetly over
the years. So today we are going to talk about

(01:08):
not only Phillis Sweetly, who was one of only three
people in North America to publish their work while enslaved,
but also how her place in the world of literature,
especially black literature, rose and then fell, and then rose
again during her life and after her death. Phyllis Wheatley
was likely born in what's now Senegal or the Gambia

(01:28):
in about seventeen fifty three. We don't have details about
exactly where she was from, or which African nation or
people she belonged to. Even the connection to the Senegambia
region is a little tenuous. The slave ship that took
her to Boston, Massachusetts did stop there, but it also
made several other stops in western Africa, so it's really

(01:50):
tricky to pin down. The crew moved south along the
African coast as they tried to carry out the orders
of the ship's owner, Timothy Fitch, which were to quote
purchase one hundred or one hundred ten prime slaves. Phillis
herself did not really fit that description of quote prime slaves.
She was about seven, judging by the fact that she

(02:12):
lost her front baby teeth by the time she arrived
in Boston. She was also small, and she was in
poor health. She probably would not have been purchased during
the ship's first stops in Africa. But only later on
and a final attempt for the crew to fill that
quota they'd been given. The ship finally departed with ninety
five enslaved Africans aboard, so Phillis may have been from

(02:35):
farther south along the African coast, possibly as far south
as Sierra Leone. We also don't know what Phillis Wheatley's
name was before she was taken from Africa, or even
what language it was in the ship she was aboard.
Arrived in Boston, as we mentioned, and that happened on
July eleven, seventeen sixty one, with seventy five enslaved Africans

(02:57):
still living after the eight week transatlantic journey. In August,
John and Susannah Wheatley purchased her, and they named her
after the ship they bought her from, which was called
the Charming Phyllis, also known simply as Phyllis. By the
time the ship arrived in Boston, Phillis herself was in
poor enough health that she was considered to be refuse,

(03:18):
which was the term that was used for enslaved people
who were too old, sick, or injured to be sailable.
Charles J. Stratford, who was descended from one of Susannah
Wheatley's relatives described it this way. Quote In or about
the year seventeen sixty one, a slave ship arrived in
Boston Harbor with the cargo of slaves. Aunt Wheatley was

(03:39):
in want of a domestic. She went on board to purchase,
and looking through the ship's company of living freight, her
attention was drawn to that of a slender, frail female child,
which at once enlisted her sympathies. Owing to the frailty
of the child, she procured her for a trifle, as
the captain had fears of her dropping off his hands
without emolument by death. John Wheatley was a prosperous tailor

(04:04):
and merchant, and he and his wife Susannah had twin children,
Mary and Nathaniel, who were about eighteen at the time,
and the family quickly realized that Phillis was really bright.
John and Susannah gave their children, especially Mary, permission to
tutor her. By the age of about nine, just two
years after she arrived in Boston, Phyllis had learned how

(04:26):
to speak, read, and write in English. In addition to
doing extensive Bible study, she also started learning Latin and Greek,
including translating part of Avid's Metamorphoses, expanding it into the
poem Naobian Distress for her children Slain by Apollo. Later on,
she also studied literature, history, geography, and astronomy, and she

(04:49):
also read lots and lots of poetry. Her work is
most often compared to English neo classical poet Alexander Pope,
but she read the work of other poets, including some
from the colonies. One of these was Mather Byles, whose
seventeen forty four poems on Various Occasions may have inspired
the structure and arrangement of Phillis's own book. She was

(05:11):
so voracious in her education that she was allowed to
spend more time in study than in domestic labor at
the Wheatly home. This was well before the rise of
anti literacy slave codes, which were passed and most of
the South in the early nineteenth century and made it
illegal to teach enslaved people to read and write. But
even so in the eighteenth century it was not typical

(05:31):
at all to educate enslaved people. Even though she had
no formal education. Phillis Wheatley's tutoring and her self study
also went well beyond what would have been expected for
eighteenth century white women. In seventeen sixty seven, two men
from Nantucket visited the Wheatly home and they told a
story about how they had been sailing there from Boston

(05:53):
when a storm struck their ship. They had narrowly escaped disaster.
Phillis overheard their conversation and she wrote a poem about it,
which became her first published work on Mrs Hussey and Coffin,
and that was printed in the December twenty one, seventeen
sixty seven edition of the Newport, Rhode Island Mercury. She
was fourteen at the time. By seventeen seventy, so just

(06:16):
a few years later, tensions were rising between Britain and
its colonies. Although the Wheatly family were by all accounts loyalists,
meaning that they were loyal to Britain, Phyllis's sympathies were
with the Patriots cause. She attended church at the Old
South Meeting House, which is a place that comes up
over and over again in stories about the Revolutionary War,

(06:38):
and in seventeen seventies she wrote two poems about relevant
events of the day that made it really clear which
side she was on the first, on the death of
Mr Snyder murdered by Richardson. She describes the murder of
a boy named Christopher Snyder or Cider at the hands
of customs officer Ebenezer Richardson. In this poem, she describes

(06:59):
Christopher her as a murdyr. The second is on the
affray in King Street on the evening of the fifth
of March seventeen seventy. It's not completely clear whether the
second one, which is obviously about the Boston massacre, has survived.
There is a poem with that name that was published
in the Boston Evening Post on March twelfth, seventeen seventy,

(07:20):
but it was not signed, and while some critics say
it's the same poem, others are not so sure. That
was a pretty common way of describing the Boston massacre,
which is why it's believable that two different poets could
have written a poem about it with roughly the same title.
It was also in seventeen seventy that Phyllis Wheetlely wrote
the poem that would make her famous. This was called

(07:42):
an Elegaic Poem on the death of that celebrated divine
and eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learning
George Whitefield. Whitefield was an Anglican deacon who toward the
colonies that employed a style of preaching that was incredibly
dynamic and charismatic. He was really instrumental in the religious
revival that was known as the Great Awakening. How to say,

(08:05):
these are not the snappiest poem titles. They all tend
to run a little long. Uh. Phillis wrote the elegy
shortly after Whitefield died on September seventeen seventy. It was
first circulated as a pamphlet in cities like Boston and Philadelphia.
In seventeen seventy one, it was reprinted along with the

(08:25):
funeral sermon that Ebenezer Pemberton had delivered on October eleventh,
seventeen seventy. This reprinting gave Wheatley an audience on both
sides of the Atlantic, especially after she sent a copy
to Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon. In addition to his
preaching tours in the colonies, white Field had been the
Countess's personal chaplain. Almost instantly, Phillis Wheetley became the most

(08:49):
famous African in Britain and its colonies, very well known
as a poet, and we will talk about what followed
and the now famous Phillis Wheatley's writing career. After a
quick sponsor, Phillis sweetly kept writing new poems in the
early seventeen seventies. Although some of them were published in

(09:11):
pamphlets and newspapers, she didn't really want to just scatter
them all around, publishing them and lots of different places.
She wanted to publish them together in a book, and
by seventeen seventy two she had written enough to do it.
But to fund this book's publication, she needed to find
subscribers to commit to buying the work in advance. I
imagine this as sort of a colonial version of Kickstarter.

(09:36):
Either she or Susanna Wheatley, you're possibly both of them,
working together, started placing advertisements for this forthcoming book, with
Ezekiel Russell as its printer, but sometime that summer Phillis
turned her attention to publishing in England instead. The reasons
for this are not entirely clear. There are a number
of accounts that claim that she wasn't able to find

(09:57):
enough subscribers in the colonies, but They don't really cite
primary sources for that, but there is a seventeen seventy
three letter from one of her subscribers, John Andrews of Boston,
who suggested that it was really for financial reasons. Basically
she was getting better terms from a London press. The
not enough subscribers argument usually comes along with the explanation

(10:21):
that racism was the root cause of her not finding
an audience in the colonies. And this was not racism
as in white readers maliciously not wanting to read the
work of a black person. It was really racism, as
in white readers disbelieving that a black person could have
even written it. For the institution of slavery to exist

(10:42):
the way that it did in the American colonies, it
had to rest on the idea that Africans were less
than human and were inherently less intelligent than Europeans. So
there were definitely people on both sides of the Atlantic
who thought that Wheatley's poems must be some kind of fraud.
We we dealt with this by getting some of Boston's
most prominent men to sign an attestation that she really

(11:06):
was the author of her own poems. This included Massachusetts
Governor Thomas Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver, the Reverend Mother Biles,
and the Reverend Samuel, mother nephew and son of Cotton Mother,
the Reverend Charles Chauncey, and John Hancock. A copy of
this attestation, dated October seventeen seventy two, appeared in Lloyd's

(11:30):
Evening Post and British Chronicle in September of the following year,
and a slightly reworded version of it was part of
Wheatley's first book as well. And here's what the book
version said. Quote, we whose names are underwritten do assure
the world that the poems specified in the following page were,
as we verily believe, written by Phillis, a young Negro

(11:52):
girl who but a few years since brought an uncultivated
barbarian from Africa, has ever since been and now is
under the disadvantage of serving as a slave and a
family in this town. She has been examined by some
of the best judges, and is thought qualified to write them.
Although it's become part of the popular lure about Phyllis

(12:15):
Wheatley that this took place, there's no actual evidence that
the undersigned men actually met in a group and interrogated
her about her work. There's even a children's book that
hinges on this supposed meeting. It's actually a much more
likely scenario that there was a big meeting that was
documented to have happened on October um, and that she
took advantage of this gathering of prominent men to stop

(12:38):
by and and say, hey, would you please sign this
at a station that I actually wrote my own work.
This at of station was not the only step that
she took and getting her book published in England, and
in getting people to believe that she had really written
what was in the book. She also wrote to William Legg,
the Earl of Dartmouth, in October of seventeen seventy two,

(12:59):
sending him a copy of a poem she had written
about him. The Earl had just been named Secretary of
State for the Colonies, and she both celebrated his appointment
in the poem and included another attestation of her authenticity,
this one signed by Nathaniel Wheatley. Phillis also made a
third connection to Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, the

(13:22):
one whose personal chaplain had been the Reverend George Whitefield,
the Countess, Lord Dartmouth, and Susannah Wheatley were all connected
through the Countess of Huntingdon's Connection, which was a network
of evangelical churches and chapels. Phillis dedicated her manuscript to
the Countess, who advocated for its publication in England through
publisher Archibald Bill. Accompanied by Nathaniel Wheatley, Phillis went to

(13:46):
London in seventeen seventy three to oversee the publication of
her book. Sometimes this trip is also described as being
for the sake of her health. She was definitely there
to work on the book. By this point she'd established
such a name for herself that she had a huge
list of notable people to visit. Probably the name that
people would be most likely to recognize today is Benjamin Franklin,

(14:09):
who was at the time in London. If you've listened
to the Dido Elizabeth Bell's segment of our episode three
Astonishing Bells, you'll recall that we talked about the Somerset Case,
and this was a court case decided in seventeen seventy
two in which Lord Mansfield ruled that an enslaved person
brought to England could not be sold back into slavery.

(14:30):
In some places, this was interpreted as freeing all slaves
in England, which it didn't really do, but it did
mean that when Phillis Wheatley arrived in London the following year,
under English law, she could not be forced back into slavery.
It's possible that this is one of the reasons that
she decided to publish her book in England rather than
in the colonies. People in Boston definitely knew about the

(14:53):
Somerset case by the time she made that decision. Fellows
sweet Lee's first and only published book, which was Poems
on various subjects religious and moral, was published on September one,
seventeen seventy three. This is the first published volume of
poetry by an African woman in the English speaking world.
It included that attestation of her authenticity that we read earlier,

(15:15):
along with a letter from John Wheatley briefly detailing where
she came from and how she had been educated, and
concluding quote relation is given by her master, who bought
her and with whom she now lives. The book's frontispiece
featured a portrait of her ringed in the words Phillis
Wheatley negro servant to Mr John Wheatley of Boston. That

(15:36):
portrait is likely the work of enslaved African painter Scipio Moorehead,
who was also the subject of Wheatley's poem to s M.
A young African painter, on seeing his works. If you're
wondering about that wording of negro servant, A lot of
people who were enslaved were referred to as servants, especially
in England and New England. A few weeks after Phillis

(16:00):
arrived in England, Susannah Wheatley became seriously ill, and Phillis
returned to Massachusetts to attend to her. Her ship arrived
on September sixteenth, seventeen seventy three. Four days later, the
Boston Gazette noted her arrival among notable passengers aboard her ship,
calling her an extraordinary poetical genius. At some point not

(16:22):
long after that, Phillis was manumented by the Wheatlies, and
a letter to David Wooster dated October eighteenth, seventeen seventy three,
she wrote, quote, since my return to America, my master has,
at the desire of my friends in England, given me
my freedom Her book had received at least nine reviews
in British papers, and many of those reviews had really

(16:43):
condemned the Wheatlies continued enslavement of her. So, even though
she could really not have been forced to return to
slavery under the Somerset ruling, after having been in England,
the wheat Laves made that official. Phillis also took the
precautionary step of sending a copy of her manumission papers
to a contact she had in London for safe keeping.

(17:05):
We're going to talk about what we know of Phillis
Wheatley's life as a free woman, including a famous exchange
with George Washington, but we're gonna first take a little
sponsor break. By the time Phillis Swheetlely returned from England,
the Colonies were definitely headed toward war with Britain. That was,

(17:25):
of course, the Revolutionary War. George Washington was named Commander
in Chief of the Continental Army on June nineteenth, seventeen
seventy five, and on October twenty six of that year,
Phillis Sweetley sent him a poem she had written in
his honor, along with a letter. The letter read quote,
I have taken the freedom to address your excellency in

(17:47):
the enclosed poem and intreat your acceptance, though I am
not insensible of its inaccuracies. You're being appointed by the
Grand Continental Congress to be General Lissimo of the Armies
of North America. Together, the fame of your virtues excite sensations.
Not easy to suppress your generosity. Therefore, I presume will
pardon the attempt, wishing your excellency all possible success in

(18:11):
the great cause you are so generously engaged in. This
poem ends with the widely quoted lines, Proceed great chief,
with virtue on thy side. By every action, let the
Goddess guide a crown, a mansion, and a throne that
shine with gold unfading. Washington be thine that Washington is

(18:33):
in all caps. Washington's reply, dated February tenth of the
following year, began with an apology for taking so long
to answer. It then went on to say, quote the
style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great
poetical talents, in honor of which, and as a tribute
justly due to you, I would have published the poem

(18:55):
had I not been apprehensive that while I only meant
to give the world this new instance of your genius.
I might have incurred the imputation of vanity. This and
nothing else determined me not to give it place in
the public prints. If you should ever come to Cambridge
or near headquarters, I shall be happy to see a
person so favored by the muses and to whom nature

(19:16):
has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations. I
am with great respect, etcetera, etcetera. They're historians are divided
about whether she actually met George Washington and Cambridge. But
it cracks me up that this letter is basically like
I would have published this incredibly flattering poem you wrote
about me, but then people might think I'm vain. Perhaps

(19:40):
to get around that accusation of vanity, George Washington also
sent the poem to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reid and closing
it in a letter that talked about all kinds of
other various unrelated matters before concluding quote, I recollect nothing
else worth giving you the trouble of unless you can
be amused by reading a letter and pol addressed to

(20:00):
me by Mrs or Miss Phyllis Wheatley and searching over
a parcel of papers the other day, in order to
destroy such as were useless. I brought it to light again.
At first with a view of doing justice to her
great poetical genius. I had a great mind to publish
the poem, but not knowing whether it might be considered
rather as a mark of my own vanity than as

(20:23):
a compliment to her, I laid it aside until I
came across it again in the manner just mentioned. Lieutenant
Colonel Reid apparently took the hint. The poem was published
in Pennsylvania Magazine in April of seventeen seventy six, and
other publications picked it up from there. With the onset

(20:44):
of the Revolutionary War, things got a lot more difficult
for Phyllis Wheatley. Susannah Wheatley had died on March third,
seventeen seventy four. Then Nathaniel Wheatley had actually died a
year before. His mother, Mary and John Wheatley both died
in seventy seventy eight, So the Wheatly's had kept Phillis
in bondage, but they'd also essentially been filling the role

(21:07):
of her patrons. Without their support, she had trouble selling
poems and making ends meet, especially since the war meant
that reader's attention was really focused on other matters. On
April one, seventy eight, Phyllis Wheatly and a free black
man named John Peters announced their engagement. They married on

(21:27):
Thanksgiving Day of that year, which was November six. Most
biographers have not been very kind to John Peters. That
kind of paint him as a shiftless man who could
not get his act together, But in reality, things were
extremely difficult for free black people in New England during
the Revolutionary War. Jobs were hard to find, the pay

(21:49):
was often so low that it wasn't enough to live on.
So John Peters tried his hand at running a grocery
and a bakery in a saloon, but he just was
not able to get a stable, finding antil footing under him.
He also referred to himself as a doctor and at
one point practice law, and some biographers have made a
great big deal of the fact that he didn't have
a license to do either of those, even though there

(22:12):
was not a licensing body that he could have applied
to you at the time, Yeah, that was pretty common
practice this in this for people to hang out their
shingle and say they were a professional in a field
where today we would have a lot more um paperwork
and applications and approvals before you could use those words.

(22:33):
For sure, that is not exclusive to John Peters at all.
We really don't know much at all about the last
few years of Phillis Wheatley's life, except that they seem
to have been lived in poverty. John Peters wound up
in and out of jail for debt, and Phillis may
have had as many as three children, although there are
no records kept of their births or deaths. She died,

(22:57):
most likely due to complications from childbirth, on this number
five sev four, at the age of thirty one, with
most sources agreeing that her newborn died on that same day.
Before she died, Phillis sweetly had written a second book,
which she had tried to publish in seventeen seventy nine,
but she couldn't find sufficient subscribers to do it again.

(23:18):
This was during the Revolutionary War. It was difficult. That
manuscript unfortunately has been lost. John Peters does seem to
have gotten his financial worries straightened out after the war
was over and led an upstanding life from that point.
He is the last person known to have had access
to that manuscript. He may have taken it with him

(23:39):
when he eventually left Boston, but exactly where he went
or what happened to the manuscript is just not clear.
Fifty seven of Phyllis's poems survived today. Forty six of
them were published during her lifetime. In nine six, what
was believed to be her last poem was unearthed. That
was titled an Elegy on Leaving, and it was published

(24:02):
in Armenian Magazine, which would later become Methodist Magazine, in
July four. This magazine was edited by John Wesley, the
founder of Methodism, and it seems as though whoever sent
the poem to him incorrectly attributed it. According to research
by Caroline Wiggington, it was really the work of Mary Wattley,
first published in her collection Original Poems on several occasions

(24:26):
twenty years earlier. This was probably an honest mistake somebody made.
As we've talked about before, spellings were not very standardized
at this period, so it was it would have been
easy for Wheatly and what Lely or Watterly to have
been spelled in nearly the same or exactly the same way.

(24:48):
During and after Phillis Wheatley's lifetime, her work was used
by abolitionists as evidence that Africans were humans with souls
and intelligence equal to that of Europeans. But not everyone
had seen her work as evidence of the intrinsic humanity
and equality of Africans. Thomas Jefferson criticized her work heavily

(25:09):
in Notes on the State of Virginia in seven he wrote, quote,
misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches
and poetry among the Blacks. It's misery enough, God knows,
but no poetry. Love is the particular eastrom of the poet.
Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only,

(25:29):
not the imagination. Religion indeed, has has produced a Phyllis Wheatly,
but it could not produce a poet. The compositions composed
under her name are below the dignity of criticism. I
want to time travel and maybe um uh yeah, I
want to say bad things to Thomas Jefferson. That's what's up.

(25:53):
Aside from Jefferson's disparagement, Wheatley's work started to fall out
of favor in the nineteenth century, as it was overshadowed
by slave narratives and the work of people like Frederick Douglas.
This was especially true since Wheatley's enslavement had taken place
in such relative comfort. We don't want to downplay the
fact that she was still an enslaved person, but there

(26:14):
were certainly stories that were a lot darker out there circulating.
So her stood in sharp contrast to the writing that
was tied at the time to the Antebellum South. By
the turn of the twentieth century, writers and critics were
pointing out a range of perceived shortcomings and phillips sweet
Lea's work, including that she wasn't personal enough, she wasn't

(26:34):
genuine enough, and she cared too little for other enslaved Africans.
And the words of James Weldon Johnson, who was writing
in the nine preface to the Book of American Negro Poetry,
quote one looks in vain for some outburst or even
complaint against the bondage of her people, for some agonizing
cry about her native land. And two poems she refers

(26:56):
definitely to Africa as her home. But in each instance
there seems to be under the sentiment of the lines,
a feeling of almost smug contentment at her own escape
therefrom In the early to mid twentieth century, people started
to write Philis Wheatlely off as a second rate imitator
of Alexander Pope. This sort of criticism really escalated in

(27:20):
the nineteen sixties, especially within the Black arts movement, which
saw Wheatly's work as not nearly political or radical enough.
Writing in The New Yorker in two thousand three, Dr
Henry Lewis Gates Jr. Described it this way, quote too
black to be taken seriously by white critics in the
eighteenth century, Wheatley was now considered too white to interest

(27:41):
black critics critics in the twentie A lot of this
criticism cites Wheatly's poem on being Brought from Africa to America,
and the first stanza of this poem reads, twas mercy
brought me from my pagan land, taught my benighted soul
to understand that there's a God and there's savior too.
Once I redemption neither sought nor new so. In other words,

(28:06):
she's describing being brought from Africa to America as a
slave as something merciful because otherwise she wouldn't have learned
about the existence of God and sought redemption. But the
poem's second stanza goes on to condemn racism and hypocrisy
among Christian slave owners, admonishing them to remember that, to
use her word, negroes are also human souls who are

(28:29):
able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Here is the
second half of that poem. Some view are sable race
with scornful eye. Their color is a diabolic dye. Remember, Christians,
negroes black as cane may be refined and joined the
angelic train. It's also worth noting that this poem, which

(28:50):
has been used to just write phil as sweetly off completely,
was written when she was about fourteen years old, and
if she had lived longer, it would have been thought
of as part of her juvenile and not as part
of her mature body of work, and criticisms that she
never condemned slavery are simply not accurate. Here's a stanza
from to the right Honorable William Earl of Dartmouth, which

(29:13):
we were referenced earlier, quote, 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 snatched from Africa's fancied happy seat.

(29:34):
What pangs excruciating must molest, what sorrows labor in my
parents breast stealed? Was that soul? And by no misery
moved that from a father seized his babe beloved. Such
such my case? And can I then but pray others
may never feel tyrannic sway? And that same book introduction

(29:55):
James Weldon Johnson dismissed that poem as unimpassioned. In the
last few decades, critics and scholars have started to take
a closer look at Wheatley's actual writing, which had previously
been overshadowed by her biography and her general noteworthiness as
an enslaved black poet during the colonial era. Some of

(30:16):
this traces possible African influences in her work. Several literary critics,
including John C. Shields and Mary Catherine Loving, also interpreted
her work as a lot more subversive than previous criticism
had given it credit for. So it's hard to draw
comparisons to specific African cultures because Africa is not a monolith,

(30:37):
and we don't know exactly where philis Wheatly was from
or what who were people in Africa would have been,
but several historians have noted that multiple West African people's
used funeral elegies as a central element of community life,
with these songs most often being performed by young women.
Nearly a third of wheatly surviving poems are elegies, and

(31:00):
structurally they have more in common with African elegies than
with elegaic poems from when she was living written in Europe.
Another potential African influence on Wheatley's work is in its imagery.
Margaretta Matilda O'Dell wrote the first biography, which was published
with an addition of her poems in eighteen thirty four,

(31:21):
and in the introduction to that biography, O'Dell claimed, quote,
she does not seem to have preserved any remembrance of
the place of her nativity or of her parents, accepting
the simple circumstance that her mother poured out water before
the sun at his rising, in reference no doubt to
an ancient African custom. The rising sun is frequently a

(31:41):
repeated theme in Wheatley's poetry, as well as plays on
the words involving son as in the Male Child and
son as in the bright blazing Object in the sky.
And then there's the fact that Wheatley was, based on
everything we know of her, obviously very smart, her making
connections in London and traveling there after the Somerset case

(32:04):
was decided to suggest that she was also politically very savvy.
She also removed a lot of explicitly pro patriot poems
from that collection of poetry before having it printed in London,
and she replaced them with ones that would be more
acceptable to a more loyalist audience. So it's really reasonable
to conclude that she understood how she was being constrained

(32:27):
by the world that she was living in, and she
was crafting poems to be well received within that world.
So instead of writing poems explicitly about the evils of slavery,
she wrote poems about loving liberty and freedom, which within
her overwhelmingly white audience and the colonies, would be read
as patriotism instead of as criticism. Do you have some

(32:50):
listener mailments? Tracy? What I have is actually a link
somebody shared on our Facebook page. UM the the listener
is Angel, who posted something on our Facebook wall, and
the note just said check this out, So you don't
even have to write a lot for us to read
your message on the air. So what she wanted us

(33:11):
to check out was a post from Cincinnati Museum Center
which answered some of the questions that we had in
our episode about the Last Carolina parakeet about whether Incas,
who was the last Carolina parakeet, had been preserved through
taxidermy after his death or not. And so the answer,
according to this article that Angel shared with us is maybe. Um.

(33:35):
According to this blog post at the Cincinnati Museum Center,
the Cincinnati Zoo announced that Incas would be shipped to
the Smithsonian, just like Martha had been a few years before.
Martha was the last Passenger pigeon, but Incas is not
currently in the Smithsonian's collection. There are, however, two unlabeled
Carolina parakeets in the Cincinnati Museum Center collection, and one

(33:58):
of them could be Incas, but it's really unclear. We
just do not know. Um. That explains though, why I
could not confirm that fact before we recorded the episode,
because it's a little bit of a mystery. If you
would like to write to us about this or another podcast,
or at history podcasts at how stuff works dot com.
We're also on Facebook at Facebook dot com slash missed

(34:21):
in History and on Twitter at miss in History. Our
Instagram and our Pinterest are also under the name missed
in History. You can come to our website, which is
missed in history dot com, and you will find show
notes for all of the episodes that Holly and I
have done together. Those list all the sources that we
used in the episode. You'll find a searchable archive of

(34:42):
every episode that we have ever done. Uh and if
you would like to subscribe to our show if you
have not already, you can do that on Apple Podcasts,
Google Play, and anywhere else you get podcasts. For more
on this and thousands of other topics, visit how staff

(35:03):
works dot com. M

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