Phillis Wheatley Acquisition

On February 28th, 2005, Bill Adair, Director of Education and Catherine Parmar, Associate Director of Education, traveled to the Swann Galleries in New York City for the auction of an issue of The Essex Gazette dated October 1770 that contains an advertisement for an elegiac poem written by Phillis Wheatley on the death of the Rev. George Whitefield. With a well attended event and challenging bidders, the Rosenbach Museum & Library successfully outbid our opponents to purchase this important piece of African American history for our collection.

The Rosenbach’s collection includes Wheatley’s book of poetry published in 1773 which was the first book of poetry written by an African American to be published. This advertisement lists the first printing of an individual poem written by an African American. The text of the advertisement reads, in part:

“To be Sold at the Printing Office (embellished with a plate…) An Elegiac Poem On the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Rev. George Whitefield by Phillis, a Servant Girl of 17 Year of Age, Belonging to Mr. J. Wheatley of Boston:–She has been but 9 years in this country from Africa…”

Surrounding the advertisement are other ads for the return of runaway slaves and the sale of slaves. The Essex Gazette was the first newspaper published outside of Boston and was in print from 1768 to 1775. Wheatley had a letter published in the Gazette in 1774 condemning Christian ministers for not speaking out against slavery. This acquisition provides tangible proof of the environment of slavery from which Wheatley emerged and succeeded in producing a significant publishing landmark. The mundane nature of the slave trade, even in New England, becomes patently clear through the advertisements that surround the Wheatley ad.

The newspaper was issued as four pages (a folio sheet folded), and a search showed that no other copy of this issue has been offered at auction in at least the last 20 years. An RLIN search shows the only copies in other libraries in the collections at the Library of Congress, Berkeley, and the American Antiquarian Society. Having purchased this issue, the Rosenbach owns the sole known copy in a public collection in Philadelphia.

RML’s upcoming exhibition, Look Again: African Americana from the Collections of the Rosenbach Museum & Library, will make immediate use of this object. Our purchase of such an object is proof of RML’s commitment to continued collecting in this subject area at the same time that the exhibition itself will both examine past practices and help us refine future collecting goals within this segment of the collections. The multiple connections between this object and others mentioned above not only give this newspaper further flexibility in its application within RML’s mission-oriented activities, but also reflect what we believe to be a hallmark of the style of collecting practiced by our founders.

One thought on “Phillis Wheatley Acquisition

  1. I implore you to mention link this website to your own website

    I actually run, create and write all the code for the site(s) but want to keep my name and contact information private. This site was developed for everyone to use freely at no charge… in other words I will place an artist, dealer, writer etc. on here at no charge. I directly link to their site or provide their direct contact information. Feel Free to link me to your site.

    Here is a short synopsis of my site:

    The website is a presentation of people of color in America. An online portal if you will, for Black Entertainment that provides Information that will give you a better understanding of the problems we faced in the past to the problems we face as a nation today. The primary aim of is to encourage research activity on people of African descent and to provide vast amounts of information to the study of the African Diaspora. A historical perspective of a nation, its people, and its cultural evolution

    visit the writing site(and my other sites below) for 18th and 19th century articles and letters by ad about famous African American’s:


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