Architectural detail of window arches on Old South Church in Boston

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Richard Kigel Brings Phillis Wheatley’s Legacy Back to her Church Home

On Sunday, February 24th, Phillis Wheatley biographer Richard Kigel will be talking about one of Old South Church in Boston’s most revered members. The presentation will explore the character, personality and passions of famous poet Phillis Wheatley.

Developing previously unexplored material and adding fresh perspectives, Kigel, author of Heav’nly Tidings from the Afric Muse: The Grace and Genius of Phillis Wheatley, will present Phillis as a flesh and blood woman and accomplished literary artist. The audience will have the opportunity to reevaluate the significant role Wheatley played in the tumultuous birth of our nation.

Born in 1753 in Africa, probably Gambia or Senegal, she was torn from her parents' arms, taken captive, endured the wretched Middle Passage, and sold into slavery at just seven or eight years old. Arriving in Boston on The Phillis, she was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston. Among the many and poignant ironies of her life, this small, sickly child was named for the ship that delivered her into slavery.

While the Wheatleys were active members of the New Brick Church on Hanover Street, in 1771, at the age of 18, Phillis chose to join and was baptized into Old South Church. (During the 1600s and 1700s, Old South Church welcomed into membership more persons of African descent than any other Boston church.) Just two years after joining Old South, Wheatley’s first book of poems was published in London, and the Wheatley family freed Phillis from slavery. These events occurred during a time of tremendous social, political, and military turmoil: the Siege of Boston and the run up to the Revolutionary War. In midst of such tempestuous times, Phillis Wheatley and her books were all but forgotten.

Kigel will explore the life of the poet in depth, drawing from insights by three centuries of Wheatley scholars, authentic statements by her contemporaries and her own words taken from her writings. He will present a vivid picture of Phillis Wheatley in her time, resurrecting the spirit of the poet for twenty-first-century America.

This event, sponsored by the Congregational Library, is free and open to the public. It will take place at Old South Church in Boston on Sunday, February 24th at 12:30 p.m.