'As to her writing, her own curiosity led her to it'


This letter from Phillis Wheatley's master, John Wheatley, dated 14 November 1772, was included in the first edition of her Poems on Various Subjects: Religious and Moral, published in 1773. The 'copy' of it reproduced here is from the 1814 edition (p. 440) of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, 'To which are added, Poems on various subjects, by Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley of Boston in New England'.

In his ‘relation’, John Wheatley describes Phillis’s educational achievements and, in the blandest terms possible, her origins as well. The education that she received, mainly at the hands of her master’s daughter Mary, was highly unusual for a woman and unheard of for a female slave.

Ignatius Sancho, writing in 1778, took a poor view of John Wheatley’s letter:

'It reflects nothing either to the glory or generosity of her master - if she is still his slave - except he glories in the low vanity of having in his wanton power a mind animated by Heaven - a genius superior to himself.'


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