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Illustration for Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects

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Illustration for Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects

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When a London bookseller presented the manuscript of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects to the Countess of Huntingdon, the anti-slavery English noblewoman was reportedly "fond of having the book dedicated to her; but one thing she desir'd [was] have Phillis' picture in the frontispiece."

The man commissioned to draw the likeness of Wheatley was Scipio Moorhead, an enslaved African in service to Reverend John Moorhead, a neighbor and friend of the Wheatley family and pastor of the Church of the Presbyterian Strangers. Reverend Moorhead, along with fifteen other prominent Massachusetts citizens, had signed a testimonial that prefaced the manuscript.

Scipio Moorhead not only painted portraits, but wrote verse as well. His artistic talents had been nurtured by the Reverend's wife, Sarah Moorhead, a teacher of art and drawing. His drawing of Phillis, said to be a fine likeness, was shipped to England to be engraved. When the book was published, it contained a poem, "To S.M. a young African Painter, on seeing his Works," in which Wheatley praised the artist and voiced her hopes that their collaboration would lead to his "immortal fame":
   Still may the painter's and the poet's fire
   To aid thy pencil, and thy verse conspire!

Image Credit: Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston

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Related Entries:
Phillis Wheatley
Portrait of Phillis Wheatley
"To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth"
Letter to Reverend Samson Occum

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