Phillis Wheatley's Providence
The final chapter turns to Phillis Wheatley. Reading archival letters and other records, it traces Wheatley's evolution from a poet writing in slavery, to her achievement of some degree of celebrity, to her existence as an impoverished free woman, unable to find a publisher for her second book in the recession following the War of American Independence. The chapter examines the disjunction between Wheatley's public comments against slavery and her private bitterness about freedom in a hostile society, focusing on the paradoxes of political and economic freedom. It also shows the limits of Enlightenment discourses for subjects in slavery by looking at the problematics of Wheatley's only possible approach to the Enlightenment: from within Christianity. The chapter reads Wheatley's poem “Thoughts on the Works of Providence,” showing how it calls out to a future reader who might put the Middle Passage in the declarative. It demonstrates how the poem travels as history moves, opening up for a changeful readership.