• “He had to backtrack immediately to account for the most famous and most acclaimed poet in America, Phillis Wheatley, who was, very unfortunately for Jefferson’s argument, unquestionably black. She had been brought to Boston as an enslaved African at the age of about six, learned English and Latin as a child, and began writing poetry as a teenager. Her published works earned accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. Among her admirers were Voltaire, who praised Wheatley’s “very good English verse,” George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and even the naval hero John Paul Jones, who addressed her as “the celebrated Phillis the African favorite of the Nine [Muses] and Apollo” when he sent her some of his own verses. Dr. Rush cited her as a proof of black ability, listing her accomplishments when he wrote in 1775, “We have many well attested anecdotes of as sublime and disinterested virtue among them as ever adorned a Roman or a Christian character.”14 Franklin went to see Wheatley when she was in London, a literary celebrity on book tour. The acclaim irked Jefferson: “The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.”15”

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