Manuscript/Mixed Material George Washington to Phillis Wheatley, February 28, 1776

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their necessities, provided it does not encourage them in idleness; and I have no objection to your giving my Money in Charity, to the Amount of forty or fifty Pounds a Year, when you think it well bestowed stowed. What I mean, by having no objection, is, that it is my desire that it should be done. You are to consider that neither myself or Wife are now in the way to do these good Offices. In all other respects, I recommend it to you, and have no doubts, of your observing the greatest Oeconomy and frugality; as I suppose you know that I do not get a farthing for my services here more than my Expenses; It becomes necessary, therefore, for me to be saving at home.”

The above is copied, not only to remind myself of my promises, and requests; but others also, if any mischance happens to G. Washington.


Cambridge, February 28, 1776.

Mrs. Phillis:14 Your favour of the 26th of October did not reach my hands 'till the middle of December. Time enough, you will say, to have given an answer ere this. Granted. But a variety of important occurrences, continually interposing to distract the mind and withdraw the attention, I hope will apologize for

13. Phillis Wheatley was born in Africa and brought to Boston in a slave ship in the year 1761, then between 7 and 8 years of age. She was purchased by Mr. Wheatley, but she soon developed qualities so interesting and peculiar that she was treated more as an inmate of the family than as a slave. She made extraordinary progress in acquiring the English language, and, without any advantage from schools, learned reading and writing and manifested the greatest eagerness for gleaning knowledge. Her taste inclined to poetry; she read and relished the best authors, and soon began to compose verses. Meantime the attention of the community was turned to so singular a phenomenon, and she was visited arid noticed by people of the first character. Her correspondence was sought, and it extended to persons of distinction even in England, among whom may be named the Countess of Huntingdon, Whitefield, and the Earl of Dartmouth. In 1773, when she was 19 years of age, a volume of her poems was published in London, some of which had been written five or six years. This volume is dedicated to the Countess of Huntingdon, and in the preface are the names of the Governor of Massachusetts and several other eminent gentlemen bearing testimony to their belief of her having been the genuine writer of the poems. In 1778 she married John Peters, a man of her own color, whom tradition reports to have been little qualified for conferring happiness on so gifted a companion. She died at Boston, Dec. 5, 1784, aged 31 years. Her poem to Washington was forwarded Oct. 26, 1775. A few lines are quoted to show the style:

“Celestial choir! enthron'd in realms of light, Columbia's scenes of glorious toils I write. While freedom's cause her anxious breast alarms, She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.

* * * * *

Muse! bow propitious while my pen relates How pour her armies through a thousand gates; And when Eolus heaven's fair face deforms, Enwrapp'd in tempest and a night of storms; Astonish'd ocean feels the wild uproar, The refluent surges beat the sounding shore; Or thick as leaves in autumn's golden reign, Such, and so many, moves the warrior's train. In bright array they seek the work of war, Shall I to Washington their praise recite? Enough thou know'st them in the field of fight,

* * * * *

Fix'd are the eyes of nations on the scales, For in their hopes Columbia's arm prevails. Anon Britannia droops the pensive head, While round increase the rising hills of dead. Ah! cruel blindness to Columbia's state! Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late. 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.”

Pennsylvania Magazine, April, 1776.

14. The text from which this letter is taken was copied in 1781, by which date it was known that Phillis had married.

About this Item

George Washington Papers, Series 3, Varick Transcripts, 1775-1785, Subseries 3H, Personal Correspondence, 1775-1783, Letterbook 1: May 31, 1775 - Dec. 25, 1779
Contributor Names
Washington, George, 1732-1800 (Author)
Created / Published
Subject Headings
-  United States
-  Manuscripts
Call Number/Physical Location
MSS 44693: Reel 001
series: Series 3, Varick Transcripts, 1775-1785
series: Subseries 3H, Personal Correspondence, 1775-1783
Source Collection
George Washington papers
Manuscript Division
Online Format
online text

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The Diaries of George Washington

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Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976-79; a series of The Papers of George Washington. Copyright 1976-79 by the Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia. Used by permission of the publisher. The publisher is not responsible for the correctness and completeness of the images and texts as they appear in this online collection.

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Chicago citation style:

Washington, George. George Washington Papers, Series 3, Varick Transcripts, 1775 to 1785, Subseries 3H, Personal Correspondence, 1775 to 1783, Letterbook 1:- Dec. 25, 1779. 1775. Manuscript/Mixed Material.

APA citation style:

Washington, G. (1775) George Washington Papers, Series 3, Varick Transcripts, 1775 to 1785, Subseries 3H, Personal Correspondence, 1775 to 1783, Letterbook 1:- Dec. 25, 1779. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

Washington, George. George Washington Papers, Series 3, Varick Transcripts, 1775 to 1785, Subseries 3H, Personal Correspondence, 1775 to 1783, Letterbook 1:- Dec. 25, 1779. 1775. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

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