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In the News: 1774 Newspaper Printing of Phillis Wheatley's Letter Rebuking SlaveryMarch 29, 2022
In every breast, God has implanted a principle, which we call love of freedom; it is impatient of oppression.Phillis Wheatley in her 1774 letter to Rev. Samson Occom
A searing rebuke of slavery and a soaring defense of human equality, a 1774 newspaper printing of a letter written by African American poet Phillis Wheatley is now part of the Museum's collection. It is now on display at the Museum through July 4, 2022.
The newly acquired document is an original printing of Wheatley’s Feb. 11, 1774, letter to Presbyterian Minister and Mohegan Indian Samson Occom, which was printed on the front page of the April 1, 1774, edition of the Connecticut Journal newspaper. In the letter, Wheatley declares to Occom, her fellow activist for the rights of people of African and Native American descent, that “in every breast, God has implanted a principle, which we call love of freedom; it is impatient of oppression.” It marks Wheatley’s first publication after she was emancipated from slavery.
The letter was purchased from a private collector, thanks to a gift from American Heritage Credit Union and the Museum’s Collections Society in support of the Museum’s diverse storytelling.
Now on Display
Wheatley’s letter appeared shortly after the London publication of her 1773 volume Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first published book of poetry by an African American woman. A signed first edition of the book was donated to the Museum in 2018 by Museum Board Member Dr. Marion T. Lane. It is on view in the Museum’s galleries.
Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa and was seized as a child and transported to North America on a slave ship known as The Phillis, for which she was later renamed. Enslaved and educated in the household of Boston merchant John Wheatley, she began writing beautiful and complex poetry about religion, nature, politics, race, slavery, art, and literature. Her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was lauded in both Europe and the American colonies as an example of the artistic and intellectual equality of people of African descent. After her emancipation in 1774, she faced continued racial discrimination and died in poverty in 1784 at the age of 31.
In Case You Missed It
Philadelphia Tribune (March 27, 2022)
"Phillis Wheatley letter is the highlight of Women's History Month at the Museum of the American Revolution"
Philadelphia Inquirer (March 31, 2022)
"Revolution museum acquires rare letter by Phillis Wheatley, first published African American poet"
6abc (April 1, 2022)
"Museum of American Revolution acquires newspaper printing of letter penned by Phillis Wheatley"
Transcript of Phillis Wheatley's Letter to Reverend Samson Occum
Rev’d and honor’d Sir, I have this Day received your obliging kind Epistle, and am greatly satisfied with your Reasons respecting the Negroes, and think highly reasonable what you offer in Vindication of their natural Rights: Those that invade them cannot be insensible that the divine Light is chasing away the thick Darkness which broods over the Land of Africa; and the Chaos which has reign’d so long, is converting into beautiful Order, and [r]eveals more and more clearly, the glorious Dispensation of civil and religious Liberty, which are so inseparably Limited, that there is little or no Enjoyment of one Without the other: Otherwise, perhaps, the Israelites had been less solicitous for their Freedom from Egyptian slavery; I do not say they would have been contented without it, by no means, for in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance; and by the Leave of our modern Egyptians I will assert, that the same Principle lives in us. God grant Deliverance in his own Way and Time, and get him honour upon all those whose Avarice impels them to countenance and help forward tile Calamities of their fellow Creatures. This I desire not for their Hurt, but to convince them of the strange Absurdity of their Conduct whose Words and Actions are so diametrically, opposite. How well the Cry for Liberty, and the reverse Disposition for the exercise of oppressive Power over others agree, -- I humbly think it does not require the Penetration of a Philosopher to determine.