Phillis Wheatley's Memoir and Poems

Phillis Wheatley's Memoir and Poems

Phillis Wheatley's Memoir and Poems

1. The rare 1838 edition of Phillis Wheatley's Memoir and Poems (Isaac Knapp, Boston, 1773 was the year of the First Edition funded by Selina, Countess of Huntingdon...see below) -- A 28 page memoir of Wheatley by Margaretta Matilda Odell, a collection of Wheatley's poems, and perhaps most importantly, it contains the third publication of the poems of the North Carolina slave George Moses Horton, preceded only by a pamphlet published in Raleigh, NC (originally entitled The Hope of Liberty, an unobtainable volume), and a reprint in 1837 in Philadelphia (no copies in American libraries). The first appearance together of the two of the first three published African-American poets (separated only by Jupiter Hammon). An exceptionally scarce title.   Wheatley, born in Africa around 1753, was enslaved and brought to America in 1761. Tutored by the Wheatley family, Phillis was able to read the most difficult passages from the Bible within sixteen months. She started writing poetry at the age of twelve and by 1770 was well known in Boston and England for her elegies. Her published poetry initiated both African-American literature as well as the strong tradition of literature by African-American women -- order postcard of Phillis Wheatley

George Moses Horton, though of pure African parentage, was born a slave in North Carolina in 1797. In the little spare time he had he taught himself to read and began to compose poems, which he had to commit to memory because he was unable to write. Though his efforts were unappreciated by both the slave owner and his fellow slaves (who considered him "a vain fool"), he convinced his master to send him weekly to the nearby campus of the University of North Carolina, where he was able to sell produce. Soon he was composing love poetry on commission (ranging from twenty-five to seventy-five cents per poem) for students, who would claim it as their own when wooing Southern belles. Horton's business thrived and in a short time some of the academics helped him to learn to write and aided in his getting published. Sadly, his master continuously refused to allow him or others to buy his freedom. Freed by Union troops after sixty-seven years of slavery, he spent the remainder of his life in Philadelphia and died in 1883. Among his distinctions, he was the first published black Southern poet, the first black male writer to have a book published in America (Hammon's works were all published as pamphlets), the first black poetic voice to protest against slavery, and the first black author to earn money from his writings. A marvelous assemblage of two seminal figures in African-American literature, whose works are preserved for their quality as well as their historical importance.

BACKGROUND: In 1767, the Newport Mercury published Phillis Wheatley's first poem, a tale of two men who nearly drowned at sea, and of their steady faith in God. Her elegy for the evangelist George Whitefield, brought more attention to Phillis Wheatley. This attention included visits by a number of Boston's notables, including political figures and poets. She published more poems each year 1771-1773, and a collection of her poems was published in London in 1773. The introduction to this volume of poetry by Phillis Wheatley is unusual: as a preface is an "attestation" by seventeen men of Boston that she had, indeed, written the poems herself:

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 Girl, who was but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa, and has ever since been, and now is, under the Disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a Family in this Town. She has been examined by some of the best Judges, and is thought qualified to write them.

The collection of poems by Phillis Wheatley followed a trip that she took to England. She was sent to England for her health when the Wheatley's son, Nathaniel Wheatley, was traveling to England on business. She caused quite a sensation in Europe. On 13 May 1773 Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, wrote to Susannah Wheatley (Mrs. John Wheatley), concerning religious matters -- "Your little Poetess remember me to her may the Lord keep her & hope comfort her heart alive with the fire of that altar that never goes out, & may all under your roof dwell safe under the shadow of Jesus with great delight..."  She mentioned Phillis (little poetess), who sailed that month with Nathaniel Wheatley for England. The Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791) was a Methodist religious leader in England, and Phillis's Poems on Various Subjects is dedicated to her. While Phillis met many people of interest in England, she was unable to connect with the Countess. She had to return unexpectedly to America when they received word that Mrs. Wheatley was ill. Sources disagree on whether Phillis Wheatley was freed before, during or just after this trip, or whether she was freed later. Mrs. Wheatley died the next spring.
-- An intriguing vintage "Negroe Slave Girl Appraisal" document mentioning a girl, Phillis...dated April 14th, 1766 -- Philadelphia. A one-of-a-kind Early American document; entirely hand-penned on laid, watermarked paper, especially since the typical spelling of the girl's name is "Phyllis." It appears as though Dr. Robert Elton settled the account and/or estate of Thomas Hart ---most important was the inclusion of the appraisal of a "Negroe Girl named Phillis" for the amount of thirty pounds. Measures about seven by twelve inches. After cursory research it has been determined that the "Phillis" mentioned in this document is not the Phillis Wheatley, even though the first name is spelled the same. Our initial thought was that perhaps John Wheatley had purchased Phillis from the estate of Thomas Hart. Phillis Wheatley was purchased by John and Susanna Wheatley in Boston a few years earlier. We are still researching to determine the identity of Phillis Wheatley's seller. The same first name of Phillis and same approximate time period of the 1760s and approximate age are items of interest. This document gives us a glimpse into early American life and the life of a young girl with the same first name as the famous, Phillis Wheatley.

-- The September 1773 edition of the Gentleman's Magazine -- first published mention of Phillis Wheatley's book.
         COUNTESS OF HUNTINGDON (1707-1791) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
-- Vintage engravings (3 copies) of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon. She funded many organizations and people, including John Newton. Even though the Countess and Phillis never actually met, she funded the printing of the first edition of Phillis Wheatley's book.
-- A 1.5" brass 1937 commemorative coin of the founding of Huntingdon, PA. On the front of the coin is a Bust of Selina Hastings  Countess of  Huntingdon. On the reverse is a Quaker shaking hands with an Indian chief at Standing Stone Monument.  Around the edge  is  Sesquicentennial  adoption of the constitution of the United States. Coin shows aging patina  but in excellent condition.
: Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, was born in 1707, married in 1728 and became a Christian at around the age of 32. She became a widow seven years later and began to devote her energies wholeheartedly to the Lord's work. Like the Wesley's and George Whitefield, she was a member of the Church of England.

Selina used her influence to arrange the appointment of evangelical clergymen in numerous parishes and appointed George Whitefield and other clergy as her chaplains, which was a way of supporting them in their ministry. The Countess opened private chapels attached to her residences, which she was allowed to do as a peeress of the realm. These were used for the public preaching of the gospel, but they became a source of contention from the local Anglican clergy, with the result that she reluctantly seceded from the Church of England in 1781. The Countess was very interested in missionary work towards the American Indians. (George Whitefield was frequently in America preaching along the east coast, in particular in Georgia, where he established the orphanage 'Bethesda', near Savannah. He left this to the Countess in his will, when he died in 1770.) When the slaves who fought for the British were given their freedom after the American War of Independence, students who had been at Trevecca went to minister to them in Nova Scotia. Some of these freed slaves returned to Africa in 1792 - to Freetown in Sierra Leone. There they started up churches of their original denominations. This was how the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion in Sierra Leone began. It was not until 1839 that the lines of communication really were established between the two Connexions. A strong bond has existed between them ever since. When the Countess died in 1791 there were over 60 causes associating themselves with the Countess of Huntingdon.

Selina became an heir of the (Earl of Ferrer) fortune, along with inheriting the fortune of her husband (Earl of Huntingdon). Selina had become a Christian in 1739 and after the death of her husband (1741) she used the funds for the establishment of the Methodist church and the propagation of the gospel. The Countess funded Phillis Wheatley's book (London first edition) in 1773 without even actually meeting Phillis during her famous trip to England in 1773. This is the story behind the story.

-- An absolutely rare original autographed letter from London dated December 7, 1728 and signed by Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers (1677-1729). Washington Shirley died on April 14, 1729. This letter appears to be concerning estate matters. Another contemporary hand has added a note at the top of the second page regarding the showing of this letter to his son-in-law and daughter the Earl of Huntingdon & Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, on October 11, 1730...which was signed Jos Hayne. The additional writing on the top of the second page seems to indicate that this letter was an important aspect as the estate was being settled. In the letter is mention of Mr Shepperton, Mr Maunder, Dr Mead, mention of Northampton....mention of Springwood, Dorchester, etc.
BACKGROUND: Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers was born on 22 June 1677.1 He was the son of Robert Shirley, 1st Earl Ferrers and Elizabeth Washington. He married Mary Levinge, daughter of Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Levinge. He died on 14 April 1729 at age 51, without any sons to inherit the estate. Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers succeeded to the title of 8th Baronet Shirley, of Staunton Harold on 25 December 1717.1 He succeeded to the title of 2nd Viscount Tamworth, of co. Stafford on 25 December 1717. He succeeded to the title of 2nd Earl Ferrers on 25 December 1717.
Children of Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers and Mary Levinge
: Lady Selina Shirley+ d. 17 Jun 1791. Lady Elizabeth Shirley. Lady Mary Shirley d. 12 Aug 1784.
-- 1851 biography page of Phillis Wheatley, with her famous image prominently placed at the top (Illustrated Biographies)
-- 1855 wood engraving of Phillis Wheatley from Lossing's "Our Countrymen, Brief Memoirs of Eminent Americans."  It is a half-page portrait engraving, with biography of Phillis.
-- First Edition copy (1886) of Chips from the White House 1886 by Jeremiah Chaplin. A large collection of responses from the presidents starting with Washington to Cleveland. One response was to Phillis Wheatley slave who wrote poetry to George Washington.
-- Vintage 1909 edition of "The Poems of Phillis Wheatley", published by Richard R. Wright, Jr. and Charlotte Crogman Wright (A.M.E. Book Concerns, Philadelphia)
-- A hard-to-find 1930 hardcover edition of Phillis Wheatley's book, published by the Wrights and printed by A.M.E. Concern, Philadelphia...with Introduction and Notes by Charlotte Ruth Wright.
-- Scarce First Edition copy of, "The Story of Phillis Wheatley" (New York: J. Messner, 1949) by Shirley Graham Du Bois, 2nd wife of NAACP mentor, W.E.B. Du Bois.

-- Limoges platter, upon which the SS Phillis Wheatley ship was beautifully hand painted. It is signed on the back of the platter by the painter, Mrs. E.F. Cantrill (Chicago, IL dated Aug. 1921). It measures 12 inches by 17 1/2 inches and is in great condition. There is quite a story behind this image.
BACKGROUND: On September 17, 1919 the Black Star Line (run by Marcus Garvey) signed a contract to purchase its first ship, the "S. S. Yarmouth," later renamed the "Frederick Douglass," for $165,000. On November 5, 1919, plans were announced to float a second Black Star Line ship, the "S. S. Phillis Wheatley." Marcus Garvey was arrested and later deported for mail fraud and other charges. In spite of all the controversy that swirls around him, Marcus Garvey legacy is rather inspiring. Out of the destitute of a society built on White supremacy in 19th century Kingston, Jamaica; Marcus Garvey literally pulled himself up by the boot straps and became one of the most recognized symbols in the fight for the liberation of Africa. Based on his ideology, the idea of Pan-Africanism not only emerged world-wide, but started to become a reality. His legacy provided vision to such giants as W.E.B. Dubois, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Jomo Kenyatta at the 5th Pan-African Congress which ultimately led to the liberation from the colonization of African nations such as Ghana and Kenya. Most importantly, Marcus Garvey’s life and philosophy is still inspiring millions upon millions of present day freedom fighters from Africa, America, Europe and the Caribbean to make sacrifices that will one day in the near future make his dream of Africa for the Africans realized. On October 3, 2002 Jamaican Prime Minister  P.J. Patterson has reiterated his strong support for current legislation, pending in the United States House of Representatives, that would vindicate National Hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, thus clearing the way for an official absolution of the Jamaican patriot by the American President.

-- Extremely rare 78 rpm 10" Pathe Actuelle disc no. 032053 with blues singer Hazel Meyers in 1923 sings 'Black Star Line', a homage to Marcus Garvey's Black Star Line, a shipping company formed by Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association for the transport of goods and people from the USA to Africa. Garvey's plan failed for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that Garvey was sold ships that were in very poor condition. Here Hazel Meyers, with accompaniment by Fletcher Henderson and trumpeter Howard Scott, dreams of 'Going home on the Black Star Line'. The reverse is 'Pipe Dream Blues."
Here are the lyrics to "Black Star Line" (a West Indian Chant):

1. Brothers and sisters, country man, you'd better get on board,

Big steamship gwine to sail away, Lord, with a heavy load,

It's gwine to take us all back home, yes every native style

And when we get there what a time, down on the West Indies isle.

(chorus) Get on board country man,

I say, get on board, leave this land,

A-get on board, country man,

Gwine back on be Black Star Line.

2. Take my Bowie knife in hand and lay around de dock,

Jump right in the deep blue sea, pick fights with the sharks,

I'm gwine see Brother Abraham, go catch that "Sly Mongoose,"

I'm going down to see my downtown gal, and then we'll raise the deuce.

3. We'll eat monkey hips and rice, tomato, garlic, too

Then we'll grab out favorite sport, child, chasing monkey, too,

I done put my last dime down on dis great steamship,

Lord, I hope that it won't sink, I wanna take this trip.

Historian and writer, John Cowley, states that references in "Black Star Line" to the song, "Buddy Abraham," recorded by the Banda Belasco, Trinidad (1914) and "Sly Mongooses" (1923) -- together with the derogatory comments regarding "monkey chasers" -- exemplifies antagonism between elements in black North America and migrant workers. The description "country man" is an allusion to Garvey's followers and his avowed intention of organizing the repatriation of black people to their place of origin, Africa.

A large (18" wide x 24" tall), unsigned 19th century oil painting of an American Slave woman, most likely painted during her life. Though we are not experts on paintings we feel this is realism. Realists render everyday characters, situations, dilemmas, and objects, all in a "true-to-life" manner. Realists tend to discard theatrical drama, lofty subjects and classical forms of art in favor of commonplace themes. We are not sure who painted this woman, but we can see for certain this portrait was meant to be very realistic.

In person, this artwork is compelling, a viewer cannot help but feel the meaning in this work. We are intrigued by the similarities between this oil painting and the famous Harriet Tubman. We researched artwork and famous women slaves of that era in America and found many characteristics are shared between the woman in the painting and Harriet herself. Learn more here...

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