Early American Edition of the First Book Written by an African American Woman and the First Published Book by an African American on Any Subject
WHEATLEY, Phillis. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. By Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston, in New-England. Dedicated to The Countess of Huntingdon. [Bound within] The Negro Equalled by Few Europeans. Translated from the French. To Which are Added, Poems on Various Subjects, Moral and Entertaining...In Two Volumes. Philadelphia: William W. Woodward , 1801.
Fifth American edition and the first nineteenth-century edition of Wheatley's "Poems." (First published in London in 1773, all of the early American editions are exceptionally scarce). Within the first American edition of the translated work by Louis-Joseph Lavallée, "The Negro." With a separate title-page for "Poems." Two twelvemo volumes (6 1/2 x 3 7/8 inches; 165 x 99 mm). [1]-259, [1, blank; [1]-244 pp. With "Poems" being pages 167-148 [i.e. 238] of volume II. With final six pages as list of subscribers. We could find no other copies at auction since 1922.

Recycled contemporary full speckled calf, over original boards. Spines ruled and numbered in gilt. Each spine with contemporary red morocco spine label, lettered in gilt. Pages a bit soiled and toned. Overall very good.

“Wheatley wrote at a time when women suffered great discouragement for expressing political and literary thoughts. She made a brief visit to England in 1773 during which her Poems... were printed. A second London edition appeared in the same year. Wheatley has been called African America's peerless and was the first African American to publish a book of any nature. The first edition of Wheatley's Poems... are considered one of the most important books relating to African-American literature and one of the most celebrated relating to a black author.” (Charles L. Blockson, A Commented Bibliography of One Hundred and One Influential Books By and About People of African Descent (1556-1982). A Collector's Choice).

“Phillis Wheatley, later Peters, 1753?-1784, slave and poet. Born in Africa, she was shipped to Boston, Mass. in 1761, aged about seven, and bought for Susannah W. (wife of a rich tailor), who with her teenage daughter took the unusual step of educating her. Writing poems by 1765, publishing one in a newspaper in 1767, she was noticed in society as a curiosity. Proposals for publishing a volume by subscription at Boston in 1772 failed: next year her respiratory complaints caused the W.s to send her on a visit to London; there her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, appeared in 1773, certified by prominent citizens the unaided work of a ‘Negro servant’. She was both lionized as an untaught genius, and savaged in the Public Advertiser as part of ‘a Flood of female Literature’; she kept all her life a copy of Paradise Lost given her by the Lord Mayor of London. Her work is fluent, polished, not merely conventional. She expresses fervent Christian piety, celebrates liberty of various kinds, laments a large number of public and private deaths (many of children), and praises a black artist's work. She calls Africa ‘land of errors’, ‘dark abodes’, yet paints her father's ‘excruciating sorrow’ at her capture. Freed on her return, she married in 1778 another free black, John Peters. She published a few more poems, and made vain proposals for another volume, 1779, but sank into poverty (her husband jailed for debt), drudgery, illness, and the birth and death of three babies.” (Virginia Blain et al., The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, pp. 1155-56).

Sabin 39282. Mentioned in Sabin, 103139. American Imprints, 798.

HBS # 68169 $10,500