Phillis Wheatley

Mar 25, 2011 by

Phillis Wheatley

Written by David Coonradt for an American Literature assignment.

“Phillis Wheatley”

“TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land,

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too…

 …Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,

May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”

Phillis Wheatley was an American slave who lived during the American Revolution. She was born in Africa, kidnapped, and eventually brought to America in her youth.  Fortunately, she lived with good Christian people who were kind to her, teaching her how to read and write.  She became renowned as a poet and writer, gaining fame and influence – unprecedented for a black woman during that time.

     Many critics and historians have disliked Wheatley because of her supposed “acceptance” of her social state, and wished she had been more outspoken on issues of abolition.  Though she certainly spoke on slavery, the poem above reveals her true self: A Christian woman truly concerned about the soul of her people. 

     I do not agree with the critics.  I believe that often in History, issues of slavery and civil rights are expanded to a point where other issues cannot be examined.  Many times this leads to a distortion of history.  In light of this, I would never want my views to be misconstrued as to lead others to think that I do not realize the seriousness of these subjects.  Clearly, the slave trade was a great sin and blot upon our nation, a blot that we paid dearly to remove.  Nonetheless, it is clear from her writings that Phillis Wheatley was more concerned about the issues of her faith than the issues of slavery. 

    “TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land”. Christians are often labeled as intolerant or bigots when we engage in transformational mission work.  Missionaries must walk a fine line as to respecting a culture’s traditions and practices, while also disbanding those that have origins in demonic and satanic practices.  Wheatley is amazing in that she recognizes the pagan practices of her home, and seeks to bring her people to faith.  Does this mean that “Western-Caucasian” culture represents the epitome of Christian morals and living?  Not at all.  Still, we should be encouraged by Wheatley’s example, that we can go to a foreign culture and be trained to bless and nurture the lost in our home.

     “…Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”  Slavery was more than just physically bondage.  Most people during that time viewed blacks as less than human, and not entitled to the fruits and blessings of faith.  Wheatley’s urge is for Christians to realize that all people may receive salvation, regardless of skin color.  Her work was a good and worthy cause.

     Phillis Wheatley was an amazing woman of her time.  Though her poems and writings, we see that she a Christian first, and an abolitionist second.  She certainly got the order right, because true Christianity will always lead to freedom.   

David Coonradt 1/24/10

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