Letter to Reverend Samson Occum
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In 1765, when Phillis Wheatley was about eleven years old, she wrote a letter to Reverend Samson Occum, a Mohegan Indian and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Despite the difference in their ages (Occum was born in 1723), Wheatley's letter apparently led to a friendship with Occum, who was also a poet, and who later published an Indian hymnal.
On February 11, 1774, Wheatley wrote Occum again, to comment on an indictment of slave-holding Christian ministers that he had written. Wheatley strongly concurred with the argument put forth by Occum, writing that she was "greatly satisfied with your Reasons representing the Negroes" and thought "highly reasonable what you offer in Vindication of their natural Rights." While she implored God's deliverance from "those whose Avarice impels them..." she hastened to add, "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."
As she did in several of her poems, notably her ode to the Earl of Dartmouth, Wheatley used the letter to Occum as an occasion to point out the contradiction between the colonists' demands for freedom from Britain and their determination to uphold slavery. She wrote, "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."
Illustration for Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects
"To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth"
Portrait of Phillis Wheatley
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