“Imagination! Who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?”
– Phillis Wheatley (1753 – 1784)
For the last stop on the Boston Poetry Scavenger Hunt, I paid a visit to the Boston Women’s Memorial on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. (To visit the other five stops click on the links: Stop 1, Stop 2, Stop 3, Stop 4, and Stop 5) The memorial features three women: 1st Lady Abigail Adams, abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone, and the poet Phillis Wheatley. The first time I’d ever heard her name was when it was briefly mentioned in a brochure on the Freedom Trail in connection with the Old South Meetinghouse. The Old South Meetinghouse was the church that Phillis Wheatley belonged to and where the Boston Tea Party was essentially launched. But a little research reveals the magnitude of what Phillis Wheatley accomplished and why she is prominently featured at the memorial. She was kidnapped and sold into slavery from her West African home – Phillis was the name of the ship that brought her to Massachusetts and Wheatley was the surname of the family that bought her in Boston. She learned to read and write while with the Wheatlys and began to compose poetry. She published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773 and she was renown in her short lifetime for her poetry. George Washington asked to meet her while he was General of the Continental Army. But she was also forced to defend and prove her authorship of her own poetry in court.
She was emancipated at her owner’s death in 1778, but died in penury just a few years later while her husband was in debtor’s prison.