Tag: George Washington owned slaves

Phillis is for February

Lifestyle February 2, 2014


I welcome thee February with your Aquarians, brisk weather, and Black history. Let’s quickly discuss one of my favorite figures from Black history, Phillis Wheatley. Phillis’ story was truly awful, in both senses of the word it was equal parts spectacular and inspiring as well as difficult and unfortunate. She was kidnapped from her home in either Senegal or Gambia at the age of 7, renamed after the slave ship that brought her to the shores of Boston, the promptly sold into slavery. The family that bought her, the Wheatleys, provided her with an education which sparked her love of writing poetry. She wrote many poems and even reached out to George Washington. Her letter caused such a paradigm shift for our dear first President that he offered to meet her in person. Offering to meet a slave women was a very strange gesture for a White man, let alone a White man of means with slaves of his own. Here is the letter she wrote:

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!

The Goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel binds Her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! Bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or think as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou know’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honors—we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! Cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the Goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! Be thine.
-Phillis Wheatly

Her life and work were prolific and should stand out as a exemplars of rising above the odds. After all, how more disempowered a position could a person find themselves? A Black female slave in 1700’s America. Yet, she managed to change the perspective of her people and inevitably play her role in changing history. We should all hope we can hone our talents to create such an impact. Alright C&C readers, the gauntlet has been thrown, find a way to leave your perfect mark as well.