Wheatley, Phillis: Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Wheatley, Phillis. "Letter to John Thornton." In Phillis Wheatley and Her Writings, edited by William H. Robinson, pp. 327-28. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.

In the following letter written in 1773, Wheatley informs John Thornton, a merchant she met with in London, that she has returned safely to her mistress in America.

Hon'd sir

It is with great satisfaction, I acquaint you with my experience of the / goodness of God in safely conducting my passage over the mighty waters, and returning / me in safety to my American Friends. I presume you will join with them and me / in praise to God for so distinguishing a favour, it was amazing Mercy, altogether / unmerited by me: and if possible it is augmented by the consideration of the bitter re- / verse, which is the deserved wages of my evil doings. The Apostle Paul, tells us / that the wages of sin is death. I don't imagine he excepted any sin whatsoever, / being equally hateful in its nature in the sight of God, who is essential Purity.

Should we not sink hon'd sir, under this sentence of Death, pronounced / on every sin, from the comparatively least to the greatest, were not this blessed Con- / trast annexed to it, "But the Gift of God is eternal Life, through Jesus Christ / our Lord?["] It is his Gift. O let us be thankful for it! What a load is taken from / the sinner's shoulder, when he thinks, that Jesus has done that work for him / which he could never have done, and suffer'd, that punishment of his imputed / Rebellions, for which a long Eternity of Torments could not have made suffici- / ent expiation. O that I could meditate continually on this work of wonder / ous Deity itself. This, which Kings & Prophets have desir'd to see, & have not seen[.] / This, which Angels are continually exploring, yet are not equal to the search,—/Millions of Ages shall roll away, and they may try in vain to find out to / perfection, the sublime mysteries of Christ's Incarnation. Nor will this desire / to look into the deep things of God, cease, in the Breasts of glorified saints & Ang- / els. It's duration will be coeval with Eternity. This Eternity how dreadful, / how delightful! Delightful to those who have an interest in the Crucified / Saviour, who has dignified our Nature, by seating it at the Right Hand of / the divine Majesty.—They alone who are thus interested, have cause to rejoice / even on the brink of that Bottomless Profound: and I doubt not (without the / least Adulation) that you are one of that happy number. O pray that I may / be one also, who shall join with you in songs of praise at the Throne of him, who / is no respecter of Persons, being equally the great Maker of all:—Therefore disdain / not to be called the Father of Humble Africans and Indians; though despis'd / on earth on account of our colour, we have this Consolation, if he enables us to / deserve it. "That God dwells in the humble & contrite heart." O that I were / more & more possess'd of this inestimable blessing; to be directed by the imme / diate influence of the divine spirit in my daily walk & Conversation.

Do you, my hon'd sir, who have abundant Reason to be thankful for / the great share you possess of it, be always mindful in your Closet, of those / who want it, of me in particular.

When I first arriv'd at home my mistress was so bad as not to be expec- / ted to live above two or three days, but through the goodness of God, she is / still alive but remains in a very weak & languishing Condition. She begs / a continued interest in your most earnest prayers, that she may be daily / prepar'd for that great Change which she is likely soon to undergo; She in- / treats you, as her son is still in England, that you would take all opportuni - / ties to advise & counsel him. [She says she is going to leave him & desires you'd be a spiritual Father to him.] She will take it very kind. She thanks you / heartily for the kind notice you took of me while in England. please / to give my best Respects to Mṛṣ & miss Thornton, and masters Henry / and Robert who held with me a long conversation on many subjects / which Mṛṣ Drinkwater knows very well. I hope she is in better Health / than when I left her. Please to remember me to your whole family & I thank / them for their kindness to me, begging still an interest in your best hours/I am Hon'd sir / most respectfully your Humble serv

Phillis Wheatley


SOURCE: Wheatley, Phillis. "Letter to Samson Occom." In Phillis Wheatley and Her Writings, edited by William H. Robinson, p. 332. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.

In the following letter written in 1774, Wheatley directly addresses the injustice of slavery in a way that she does not in her poetry. This letter was written shortly after the death of her mistress, when she had been freed for four months. Her recipient, Samson Occom, was a Native American preacher who, like Wheatley, was introduced in England as a Christian prodigy.

Reverend and honoured 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 insensibly chasing away the thick Darkness which broods over the Land of Africa; and the Chaos which has reigned so long is converting into beautiful Order, and reveals more and more clearly the glorious Dispensation of civil and religious Liberty, which are so inseparably united, 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 Avaraice impels them to countenance and help forward the 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.

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