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"To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North America &c."

Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet, was also the second woman in colonial America to publish a book on any subject. Born in Gambia, where she was taken into slavery, Wheatley was sold to the Wheatleys, a prosperous Boston family in 1761. Taught to read and educated in the classics, Wheatley published her first poem at the age of fourteen. In this 1773 poem addressed to the Earl of Dartmouth, a colonial administrator and sometime patron of Wheatley's, the poet makes the case for the colonial cause, stressing that the basis for her love of freedom lies in her bitter experience of slavery: "I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate/Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat/ can I then but pray/Others may never feel tyrannic sway?" After the Revolution and her subsequent marriage to John Peters, Wheatley died penniless and largely forgotten at the age of 31.

To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North-America, Etc.

Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desir'd,
Sick at the view, she lanquish'd and expir'd;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress'd complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t' enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent's breast?
Steel'd was that son and by no misery mov'd
That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favors to renew,
Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore.
May heav'nly race the sacred sanction give
To all thy words, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot's name,
But to conduct to heav'ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th' ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.

Source | Phillis Wheatley, "To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North America &c." in The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley, ed. John Shields (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 73.
Creator | Phillis Wheatley
Item Type | Fiction/Poetry
Cite This document | Phillis Wheatley, “"To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North America &c.",” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 21, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/741.

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