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"Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral"

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Phillis Wheatley was stolen from Africa and arrived in Boston at the age of seven. Although John and Susannah Wheatley bought her as a slave, they recognized her intellectual gifts and educated her with their two children. The publication in 1773 of her "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" marked the first published book by an African American. Writing under her own name instead of anonymously or using an assumed name was also unusual for a woman in that period. The classical and religious themes in Phillis' poems reflect her New England education and upbringing. Such achievements by an African American, especially a young woman, were looked upon with so much skepticism that several judges were called upon to grill Phillis on her intellectual abilities since she "was but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa" (page 7). The judges concluded that she did indeed write the poems in her book. In her poem, "On Being brought from Africa to America", Phillis reminded her audience that although many "view our race with a scornful eye", African Americans could also "be refin'd, and join th' angelic train." (page 18)


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