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His Excellency General Washington

Wheatley, Phillis (poem); Unidentified artist (portrait)
1775 (poem); circa 1753 - 1784 (portrait)

Phyllis Wheatley - 1753-1784, His Excellency General Washington. Academy of American Poets.;

Unidentified Artist. Phillis Wheatley, c.1753 - 5 Dec 1784, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Phillis Wheatley was a poet and enslaved women. Enslaved as a child, transported from Africa to Boston, she eventually secured her own freedom. At the start of the war, she wrote this poem for George Washington and sent it to him in a letter. She wrote, "Your being appointed by the Grand Continental Congress to be Generalissimo of the armies of North America, together with the fame of your virtues, excite sensations not easy to suppress. " What are some words or lines from the poem above that describe George Washington? Why do you think that she wrote this poem and shared it with Washington? How would her writing be considered a support of the war effort? Answer these questions in tandem with the readings and art activity included in this literacy section of this set.

Phillis Wheatley was enslaved and brought to America from Africa in 1761 when she was a child. John and Susannah Wheatley, the people who enslaved Phillis, encouraged her to get an education and study Christianity. Wheatley wrote hundreds of poems and her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published in London in 1773. Shortly after this, she used a trip to England to secure her freedom and continued to write and publish poems including the one to George Washington. Yet she died in poverty in 1784. Have your students determine the meaning and significance of this poem by engaging with the literacy strategy in which they make visual representations of certain phrases in the poem.

Celestial choir, enthron’d in realms of light;
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write…

The Goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel binds Her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber'd charms and recent graces rise...

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev'ry action let the Goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! Be thine.