Bringing the Middle Passage Home: The Schooner Phillis

Detail of Figure III in Brooks slave ship diagram. From “The Cries of Africa to the Inhabitants of Europe or A Survey of the Bloody Commerce Called the Slave Trade”, by Thomas Clarkson, circa 1821. Special Collections, Leeds University Library.

Most of y’all know that I am writing a book of poetry on Phillis Wheatley. I’ve been talking about it forever, and I’m furiously working on it right now, along with my novel.

Wondering how I am working actively on not one but two books and giving both my all? Caffeine! I’m not playing with y’all. I rise early in the morning on most days, drink some black tea, power down to green tea for noon, and then I get it going until I pass out in the mid-afternoon.  It’s going well, believe it or now, but now, I’m wearing my hair in a ponytail every day and my house is looking like Who Shot John. And who has time to fold laundry and commune with the Muse at the same time?  Not this Miss Lady.

Anyway, four years ago this summer, I read letters between Timothy Fitch, the owner of the slave ship Schooner Phillis and Peter Gwinn, the captain of the ship, which is assumed to be the ship that brought the child who would be Phillis Wheatley into Boston Harbor; the letters were on the Medford (Massachusetts) Historical Society website.

Here’s a link to the letter that sent me on this four-year journey to write a full poetry book on the life and times of Phillis Wheatley.  (After I had been writing poems on her already for a previous four years. You do the math!) 

I have my personal, sweet angel, a librarian at the American Antiquarian Society in Wooster, Massachusetts to thank for pulling this slave trade letter up–just like that!—on my laptop back in 2009. She’s a genius.

As I finish up this book–God willing–I’ll be sharing little tidbits on the blog from my journey of writing about this time, which has been very educational and even more emotional–lots of tears, because you can’t write about black folks and the eighteenth century and not write about the Middle Passage and the horror of slavery.

But now, the good news is that in the middle of those tears, I met my husband in Senegal while doing research for this book, and let me tell you, this man has provided a sturdy shoulder for me to cry on when the research for the book has led me to some painful, ancestral places.

By the way, there is no known illustration of the Schooner Phillis. The picture that I have included above is of the Brookes slave ship. (It is spelled both with an “e” and without in historical writings.) There are several other illustrations of the Brookes that were used by eighteenth-century British abolitionists to bring home the human atrocities of slavery. Here is the most well-known and commonly used illustration of that ship.  

Now you know what you were wearing on your t-shirt back in the day. Don’t you feel good knowing?!–And don’t worry, I’ll talk a bit about the Brookes at a later date.

5 thoughts on “Bringing the Middle Passage Home: The Schooner Phillis

  1. I love following you & I wish you good finishing of this important work – I will be one of the first to purchase. As a retired person of color or a colored “girl” of 66 yrs… I say yay! Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you so much for the good words of the encouragement! I really appreciate you. I must tell you, I feel a lot of spiritual support from the folks. It has really helped me on this journey. Take care, HFJ

  2. Hi Honoree, Somehow my topmom100 changed names on “W”. Don’t ask how, but this is wonderful news, no not the condition of your house, but the book (s)! I will be in line when PW is published. Barbara

    • Thank you, Miss Barbara!

      Your continued encouragement and belief in this project really helps me. And believe it or not, that comment you made (on Facebook) that I needed to finish this project for my “older friends” made me start writing furiously. I really want you to read this book!:)–Please continue to keep me in strong, positive prayer/meditation.


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