The Rev. Jeremy Belknap was born in Boston in 1744 and attended Harvard College before trancribing Phillis Wheatley's "First Effort" in his journal. When Belknap claimed that the Phillis Wheatley rhyme had been written in 1765, he was a young schoolteacher in New Hampshire who wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life. Later, when he became one of America's first black ministers, he included the poem in his sermons to inspire his congregation.
Wheatley died in London in 1784 at the age of 26.
Harvard University didn't exist until 1817 when it was founded by the Massachusetts General Court. Before then, students went to Harvard College in Cambridge or received a similar education elsewhere. However, even though Harvad University was not yet officially open for business, many great men and women have already taken its hallowed halls as their home. These include such writers, artists, and scientists as James Bryant Conant, Louis Menand, Rosalind Franklin, William H. Grier, and George Parkman.
Conant, who served as president of Harvard for eight years, was among the first people to publish scientific papers after the creation of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also known for inventing the Conant vaccine which prevents smallpox infection and for co-founding Merck & Co., one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
Phillis Wheatley, a pioneering African-American poet, was born in Senegal in 1753. She was abducted at the age of eight and taken to Boston aboard a slave ship. When she arrived, John Wheatley hired her as a servant for his wife, Susanna. Although he had been told that she could read and write, Wheatley only taught her how to sew and knit.
Wheatley's mastery of poetry led to her being hired as a tutor to several young men. In 1771, she published an anthology of poems written by herself and other black poets then available. This little book made Wheatley famous and aroused great interest in Africa and its people among Europeans. That same year, Wheatley left Boston to live with her daughter in London. There she met King George III, who was fascinated by her knowledge of poetry written in ancient Greek. He asked her to translate some poems by Homer into English. This task required enormous skill since much of Homer's work was not understood until many years later. Wheatley also wrote two more books of poems before she died in 1784 at the age of 36.
In Boston, Mrs. Wheatley decided to stay there and teach others about Africa. She hired an actor named Abel Putnam to travel around the country performing plays about Africa. These performances were so interesting that they drew large crowds. One man even offered to pay Mrs. Wheatley anything she wanted if she would marry him.
Phillis Wheatley, who was she? In 1761, poet Phillis Wheatley was taken to Boston, Massachusetts, aboard an enslaved person's ship and purchased as a personal servant for John Wheatley's wife by John Wheatley. Phillis was schooled by the Wheatleys, and she quickly learned Latin and Greek, going on to create much recognized poetry. She died in 1805, aged 44.
Wheatley became one of the first African Americans to publish a book when the family released An Apology For The Life Of Mrs. John Wheatley, Who Was A Slave But Is Now Herself Free With An Account Of The Life And Services Rendered By That Faithful Servant (London: J. Debrett, 1771). This book was also the first to be published by an African American.
During her time with the Wheatleys, Phillis Wheatley received a formal education that included lessons from a master teacher as well as training in reading and writing. She also learned how to conduct herself as a proper lady in society after being sent to live with the Wheatleys. Although she was not given access to books or information about slavery at home, Wheatley still managed to learn enough about her situation to know that she could never belong to anyone else but the Wheatleys. This act of resistance to slavery's hold over her life was very important because it showed that even though she was enslaved, she had thoughts and feelings of her own.