Jan. 16, 2024

Episode 47: To Persevere In Grace & Faith

Episode 47: To Persevere In Grace & Faith

Phillis Wheatley to Obour Tanner, October 30th, 1773 in which Wheatley discusses faith, her book, and a trip to England.

Phillis Wheatley to Obour Tanner, October 30th, 1773 in which Wheatley discusses faith, her book, and a trip to England. 


Phillis Wheatley to Obour Tanner, October 30th, 1773, Massachusetts Historical Society, Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=774 


Your Most Obedient & Humble Servant
Episode 47: “To Persevere In Grace & Faith”
Published on January 16, 2024

Note: This transcript was generated by Otter.ai with light human correction

Kathryn Gehred  00:05
Hello, and welcome to Your Most Obedient and Humble Servant. This is women's history podcast, where we feature 18th and early 19th century women's letters that don't get as much attention as we think they should. I'm your host, Katherine Garrett. Today I am delighted to welcome Dr. Tara Bynum, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Iowa. Dr. Bynum is a scholar of early African American literary histories before 1800. And in 2022, she published a really excellent book called Reading Pleasures: Everyday Black Living in Early America.

Tara Bynum  00:41
Thank you for having me. This is absolutely delightful. I'm super excited to be here and to be a part of this conversation. 

Kathryn Gehred  00:49
If you don't mind, could you give my audience sort of the elevator pitch for what your book is about?

Tara Bynum  00:53
I would love to give you an elevator pitch in my book, I'm super excited about it. Reading Pleasures, as you have identified, the title is about for black writers, largely 18th century writers. But then there's David Walker, who publishes his appeal in 1829 and 1830. So there's David Walker, Phyllis Wheatley, John Marin and James Alberto Casagrande outside, what I'm interested in is how they write about feeling good. And I argue that they want to do write about it. And to that, there's joy, there's pleasure. There's all sorts of good feelings interwoven into weeklies, poems, and letters, grandiosa and marrons. narratives and David Walker's appeal. And I guess my aim is to kind of get us to begin to think about kind of the complexity of emotions and feelings that have always been available to black writers. It's not a contemporary phenomenon in the way that my students might sometimes suspect. There are ways to ways that it was acknowledged by those who were writing at the time, and I think Wheatley Marant, grandiosa. And Walker ended up being kind of good points of entry, because they are of already canonical, some might be more famous than others. But their writing is accessible, it's available in print or online. So they're not the folks that you have to go to the archive or to the special collections to find,

Kathryn Gehred  02:26
I just think that's such a fascinating concept for a book. The idea behind this podcast is to sort of look at 18th century women's letters, letters that people might not pay much attention to. But it's been sort of prevalent in my podcast since the very beginning that a lot of letters that I'm finding are white women's letters, because those are the letters that are saved and the letters that people keep. So what ends up happening is that you get this really rich idea of what these white women's lives are. And in sometimes, if this is somebody who owns enslaved people, you might see someone's name and a letter. And that's all you see. And you don't get to like, learn more about the richness and depth of the enslaved communities live. But something that I always want to try to focus on is that every single enslaved person on George Washington's plantation had just as rich and deep in her life, as anybody living in that house, we just don't have 2000 letters that are saved by them. So when there are examples of writings from people at this time period, I'm just so excited. I'm so thrilled, and I'm so happy that you are reading these so closely, to find out more about people. So I was very excited when I saw your book.

Tara Bynum  03:29
I guess I would add is that, yes, it's definitely close reading, but it's not necessarily so close, that I'm reading against the grain or like reading into something. And I think I'm paying attention to where they use words that mean, good feeling where they say that they are happy, or where they say that they are pleased. I decided to take them seriously in those moments and truly wonder like, why haven't I thought about this? Why haven't I read about this before? So I think that it's also important to note, at least, as I have moved through this research over the years is that what I read is, it's somewhat easy to find. It's not, it's not hard to see,

Kathryn Gehred  04:15
I've listened to some of other talks that you've given. And you mentioned that sometimes it can be hard for people to wrap their minds around the fact that black people and enslaved people at this time we're in could be experiencing pleasure. I used to be a tour guide I see of tours at a plantation site. And I found that I sort of noticed something similar. If I tried to talk about something like the fact that enslaved people who live further away from the plantation house would have things like parties and things like that, which I think just as like, of course they did as people living out there in a community. But at the same time, if I mentioned something like that, I just know that there's going to be somebody on that tour that hears that. And it's like, well, how nice of Thomas Jefferson to allow these people to have a party. or something like that. I would sort of self censor when I was talking about it. And I think in many ways, like as a white tour guide at a plantation site, like, there's a lot of things, I have to be careful about what I'm talking about. But do you have any advice for how to talk about things like pleasures and sort of depths of people's experiences, without people sort of twisting what you're trying to say?

Tara Bynum  05:22
Well, I think there's always a risk of the twist. So I don't necessarily know how to prevent the twist, because it doesn't take much for someone to twist something. But I do think that what I have taken to doing is kind of inviting people to think about, and remember that we're talking about human beings. So I think that in terms of like human evolution, the kind of basic run of the mill emotions is consistent. So even if we can, we can talk about like technological changes, geographic changes, those might have all happened. But I think that like our ability to be angry, happy, sad, excited, or enraged, or something like that's been consistent over time. And I guess, when I think about your question, I guess I first wonder, when did we decide that black people were not allowed that full spectrum of emotion, or even the the full spectrum of desire? I recently had a conversation with a class of mine, we were talking about the anti literacy laws. And you know, I think, as is customary students knew about the anti literacy laws of the 19th century. And I think that there, there's still a belief that black people were compliant to this particular set of laws. And I was like, since when have human beings been compliant to laws? And, you know, I think this is not a unique question by any stretch. But it was interesting, you know, I took it one step further, and was like, why would we decide that 19th century black people were the most compliant human beings, like all throughout humanity? When have human beings been compliant? I think about kind of builds into like, the idea of compliance, there seems to be a lack of desire for reading or anything else built in there. So I guess, this is my kind of be enduring way of being like, why have we decided that there's only one particular set of emotions or desires available to Black people? And simply because someone has decided who they should be? They were like, yep, we should be exactly like that. We shouldn't want to have parties, we shouldn't want to be non compliance, because we're the best human beings ever live like, no, they just, there's something deeply nonsensical to me about that. The question I've gotten has been a why would you want to talk about happy slaves? That's such a problem. Or, you know, how could it be the case that enslaved head joy to like, that doesn't make any sense? Like, well? Does it make sense to deny Black people the full run of the their humanity? Under what parameters? Does that make sense? You know, I think I'm just led to be like racism would make that argument. And so I'm not a team racism, just to be clear. I'm not here to put forward the idea that simply because someone said that black people should behave in this way, or that they should look this way, or that they are this way, that black people were like, Oh, of course, we will do exactly that. No, ah, and I guess, you know, that was what, to me was most striking about like, getting into this research as a graduate student and being like, Oh, my God, this is so apparent that they enjoyed themselves. This is so apparent that friendship was something that they valued or faith or righteous anger, like, this feels novel to me, because I am kind of the fold and believe that they would not have access to those feelings. And yet, it's right there on the page.

Kathryn Gehred  09:09
It's sort of like it's giving into the white supremacist, happy slave narrative. Just saying that an enslaved person was was having a party and like playing fiddle on a plantation isn't saying they were like, happy because they were slaves. It's like, they're happy, because they're human beings who are able to, you know, experience the entire depth of human emotion, like you said.

Tara Bynum  09:31
Yeah and I think that so much of the human condition means sitting with paradox. You know, it means sitting with the kind of complexity of the external world that may have ideas about who you are and who you should be. And then there's, you know, kind of the self as the individual who also has to make choices about how they feel and, you know, when they feel where they feel and I think that To me, they're just kind of countless examples of individual persons realizing that there's so much more to them that is not and cannot be defined by the larger system. Even if it's the case that the larger political system, social system, Community System, whatever the system might be, it was imposing upon them, they can still make the decision and do make the decision to move as they as they see fit. 

Kathryn Gehred  10:26
I think that's exactly right. The letter we're going to be talking about today is from Phyllis Wheatley. Would you mind for my listeners who might need a refresher on who Phyllis Wheatley is? Could you introduce her?

Tara Bynum  10:37
On the one hand that feels like an easy question. You know, Phyllis Wheatley is best known as the Boston based enslaved girl poet who is the first Black woman, first Black person to publish a book of poetry from the American colonies. What I've learned, though, over these years is that like that brief bio, which is so often how Wheatley is defined kind of does little to help us understand. This woman who lived to be about 31 years old, is enslaved to the Wheatley family. Some say she's named after the boat that brings her from West Africa to Boston. And at a young age, she begins to write poems, the first of which is published in the Newport mercury in 1767. She eventually marries John Peters, she may or may not have children. There's some kind of debate about that. But I guess the deeper I dig into whateleys life, the more I'm sure that I'm not as able to actually say who Phyllis Wheatley is. I'll just leave it at that acknowledging that. No, with every kind of new biography, Vincent Caretta, David Wall Street share like it, it's clear that there's so much more to this woman's brief life than what we have known before known to wander before. So I think it's, it's a neat time in kind of the study of Phyllis Wheatley to see. See what people have have found out more about who she is.

Kathryn Gehred  12:27
When I thought about Phyllis Wheatley, I always knew about her poetry. But I didn't realize that there had been surviving letters that had been published and available for a really long time before I read your book, and I was like, Oh, wow, they're right there. Do you find if you look at least letters and her poetry, do you see sort of different sides of her personality of sort of the limited glimpse that we're able to get from these writings? Do you notice any difference in her writing in her letters in her poetry?

Tara Bynum  12:52
Well, I think that the poems kind of are written with a poetic voice in mind. They are not, or at least I would not necessarily assume them to be inherently biographical. You know, I think that they are an opportunity for Wheatley to be creative in ways that may not completely aligned with who she is, as a person. I think the letters give us a glimpse of Wheatley as a person, I think the letters kind of help us see can help us see her. Her humor at times her friendship but other times her business savvy at other times, too. So I'm a big fan of the letters. I think the letters are kind of completely under discussed, and I want more people to read the letters talk about the letters. The poems, I mean, are fine. We can keep talking about them. But I think the real kind of treasure trove is the letters and you know, kind of to your earlier point about big letters between Black women. And I think we live in in Tanner's letters might still kind of be the largest extent collection of 18th century letters between Black women. So you know, I think that's kind of cool.

Kathryn Gehred  14:13
Thats so cool. Because the the letters I've been able to use from enslaved women so far in the podcast, have mostly I believe, bend to their owners, and that is going to completely change the tone and of everything that's written. I used one of those a woman writing to her son, but she was narrating it to a white man who was going to write it and then deliver it to their owner as well. So I think that to just have a letter that's just between two friends is just fabulous. So that sort of introduces us to the next character. These letters. We're gonna be talking about a letter from Phyllis Wheatley to her friend Ober Tanner. What do we know about over Tanner?

Tara Bynum  14:51
Oh my gosh, that's also one of those questions is on the one hand, you know, a certain number of years ago I might have been like, over Tanner is I'm from Newport, Rhode Island, and she's enslaved James Tanner of Newport, Rhode Island. She eventually marries Barry Collins in the 1790s. And is president of the women's auxilary of the free African Union Society at some point and, and she dies about 1835. That's grossly inadequate is what I am learning at present. I think that there's so much more to Tanner's life that requires even more kind of engagement with primary sources. And I'm paying that much closer attention to who she is, and who she is within the context of Newport, Rhode Island, which has this vibrant, large ish for New England Black community in the 18th century. So, you know, I think at this point, like, Oh, my goodness, I made these assumptions. Back then. Now, I am realizing the extent to which there's so much more to know about Tanner and Wheatley and about their friendship. I guess I'm just excited for it.

Kathryn Gehred  16:09
Do we know anything about like, how they met? Do you think? Was it through church? Or is there any discussion about that?

Tara Bynum  16:15
I think that what's interesting is, we've got these letters between these two women, and I think they're about eight of them extent. And in the way of correspondence between friends, they literally don't answer any of the questions that we would want to know why because they already know the answers. So much in the same way that you wouldn't recount how you met your bestie over and over again to your bestie. They don't either. I don't exactly know, how they meet. But I think that what's clear is that there's a lot of movement between Newport and Boston. I think that the kind of congregational church community is one source of of the flow of people, I think, also just trading between merchants. So Nathaniel Wheatley does a lot of business in Newport, and also Providence, Rhode Island. So I think that there are potentially a number of reasons that Wheatley and Tanner would meet and know one another. But I, I can't necessarily pin down exactly how it happened.

Kathryn Gehred  17:24
It would be silly to write a letter and be like, Ah, I remember that day. 

Tara Bynum  17:27
And maybe it happens. But like, it's not gonna happen enough for me to you know what I mean? Eight letters. Yeah.

Kathryn Gehred  17:35
To set up sort of the context of this exact letter to sort of set the scene before we get to it. Do we know what is going on in Wheatland Tanner's lives at about the time that this letter was written, which is October 30 1773. 

Tara Bynum  17:48
So I think it's interesting to think first about how old they are. 10 are and really added to the best of my knowledge, and with the help of Vincent to read his biography are likely perish in age. And at this point, they are maybe in their late teens, early 20s. So they're young ish. What I think is important to make note of, is the fact that the revolutionary war isn't warring just yet. But the march to it is beginning. So, Wheatley has already kind of lived through the Boston Massacre, which is down the street from where she lives. 1772 is the gaspee affair and Newport Rhode Island, where Tanner lives 1773. Wheatley goes to England, and eventually comes back. And her books make their way to the colonies as well. And think according to the Boston Tea Party Museum, the book of poems are on the same ship is the tea that ends up in the Boston Harbor. So I think that was interesting about this moment in time, is thinking about Wheatley and Tanner, as part of this revolutionary scene. They don't necessarily know that there's going to be a declaration of independence yet. They don't know that, you know, the Battles of Lexington and Concord are on their way. But what they do know is that there's discussions about the possibility and you know, I think thinking about the added station to weeklies, book of poems, you've got men who will be loyalists and men who will be patriots all on this particular page at this moment. So I think that for me, what is most interesting about the kind of content Except this is that if we think about it, if we remember this part is that there are these two black women that are living through the emergence of this life altering nation building war. And I think it's not often the case that we think about Black women as central to the story of the American Revolution. And I think their correspondence in some respects is part of that story. Even if this particular letter isn't a letter that's like, oh, BT dubs the war has come in, you know, it was still the case that they are part of the kind of social fabric that's living through this very real sort of experience. And we're at least trying to sell a book, which is also interesting, too. She wants to subscribers, she wants the money from those subscriptions. So as the revolutionary fervor is building in the background, she also was working with her friends to sell books. There's an interesting backdrop, and they live with a war eventually happens, but also were the conversations that at the very least have become super canonical for us are happening. They are really in the mix, which is kind of cool to think about. 

Kathryn Gehred  21:15
Yeah thats awesome. Thank you so much. Setting up the context, I think we can go ahead and read the letter.

Tara Bynum  21:24

Boston Oct. 30, 1773

Dear Obour

I rec'd your most kind Epistles of Augt. 27, & Oct 13th. By a young man of your Acquaintance, for which I am obligd to you. I hear of your welfare with pleasure; but this acquaints you that I am at present indispos'd by a cold. & Since my arrival have been visited by the Asthma. --

Your observations on our dependance on the Diety, & your hopes that my wants will be Supply'd from his fulness which is in Christ Jesus, is truely worthy of your self – I can't say but my voyage to England has conduced to the recovery (in a great measure) of my Health. The Friends I found there among the Nobility and Gentry. Their Benevolent conduct towards me, the unexpected, and unmerited civility and Complaisance with which I was treated by all, fills me with astonishment, I can scarcely Realize it, – This I humbly hope has the happy Effect of lessning me in my own Esteem. Your Reflections on the sufferings of the Son of God, & the inestimable price of our immortal Souls, Plainly demonstrate the sensations of a Soul united to Jesus. What you observe of Esau is true of all mankind, who, (left to themselves) would sell their heavenly Birth Rights for a few moments of sensual pleasure whose wages at last (dreadful wages!) is eternal condemnation. 

Dear Obour let us not sell our Birthrights for a thousand worlds, which indeed would be as dust upon the Ballance. -- The God of the Seas & dry Land, has graciously Brought me home in safety Join with me in thanks to him for so great a mercy, & that it may excite me to praise him with chearfulness, to Persevere in Grace & Faith, & in the Knowledge of our Creator and Redeemer, -- that my heart may be filld with gratitude, I should have been pleased greatly to see Miss West, as I imagine she knew you., 
I have been very Busy ever since my arrival or should have, now wrote a more particular account of my voyage, But must submit that satisfaction to some other Opportunity, 

I am Dear friend, most affectionately ever yours,

Phillis Wheatley

my mistress has been very sick above 14 weeks & confind to her
Bed the whole time, but is I hope somewhat Better, now.
The young man by whom this is handed you seems to me to be a very clever man knows you very well & is very Complaisant and agreable. --


I enclose Proposals for my Book, and beg youd use your
interest to get Subscriptions as it is for my Benefit –

Kathryn Gehred  24:08
Well, I think this is a really interesting letter. I like how she started where she says she's been visited by this. It's just a nice way to say, I've been having some asthma, but it's not that serious. And of course, she's a poet. When you first read this letter, what struck you about this letter?

Tara Bynum  24:23
I think what struck me first, if I kind of go back in time, I think what got me really was the religious language. And I guess the the way that she invokes biblical references in the letter so it almost seems like I'm gonna tell you I'm briefly I'm gonna have like a mini Bible study. And then we'll talk maybe very briefly about my book. So I was struck by the by that, and I was also struck by the way that she seems to reference what Tanner has said. So she talks about your observations when our dependence, or your reflections on the sufferings of the Son of God. So it seems to me that the the letters that precede this from Tanner, you know, Tanner's letters are not extended at present, it gives me a glimpse of what it is that Tanner may have been talking about in those letters too.

Kathryn Gehred  25:30
It sounds to me sort of on the idea of pleasures is that these are two event who are taking pleasure in sort of negotiating their own religion, like you said, it's like a Bible study. They're talking about their faith in a way, that it's personal to them. And they're sort of growing each other's faith with each other. The way she says, your observations is truly worthy of yourself. And, dear Oprah, let us not sell our birth rights for 1000 worlds. Like that's a really lovely sentiment, and you can tell that they're very close to each other, and they're having a really rich conversation. Yeah.

Tara Bynum  26:04
And it's an ongoing conversation, too. And I think that the idea that she's heard from Tanner, August 27, October 13, I think that there really is a way that there's a back and forth and even a consistency in communication.

Kathryn Gehred  26:25
Yeah. And the fact that, you know, she went to England, and she mentions it like a little bit, but not a whole lot. But mostly what they're talking about is faith still, I think is interesting. I read a lot of 18th century letters. And a lot of times, sometimes the faith stuff is like sort of rote. Like it's like this is what we have to write because an 18th Century woman writing letter, and I have to say some things about God in it. But this doesn't feel like that at all. 

Tara Bynum  26:47
This feels like somebody being very thoughtful to me, although it's interesting, I have wondered the extent to which what Wheatley is doing is part of the custom and what part belongs to their friendship in particular,

Kathryn Gehred  27:03
if something bad happens, then it's like an 18th century you are contractually obligated to say like, but this is what God's Will can't complain about anything, because this is what God wants for me. And it's like, everybody has to write that. And this certainly isn't that. One of the lines that struck me where she talks about how she was greeted by the British people and the gentry in the nobility. So it seems like she's talking about things that might be, you know, very complimentary to her that people were very kind to her and all that. And then she says, I hope this has happy effect of lessening me in my own esteem. Now, that kind of feels like one of those things. It's like, I can't get too full of myself and as a religious person. Do you have a take on what she meant in that, in that segment? Do you think it's an exercise in 18th century religious self Abnegation? Or do you think that she's sort of working through? Where does her self esteem fit as a black woman meeting with people and writing a book and selling a book? How did she manage that?

Tara Bynum  28:00
I guess what I kind of heard was the I guess she was feeling herself and is maybe but would rather have the impact of the pomp and circumstance surrounding her the folks that she gets to me being she's gifted a bunch of books. At some point. I think the her trip is a really big deal. It To Me reads like I absolutely was an M feeling myself, but I'm hoping that instead of just living in my own fame, what I do is become more humble in net. I guess it's my my interpretation of it. But I think that what's I guess most interesting is a sitting with the possibility of both a kind of religious self deprecation. And also the the fact that wheelies clear that she is building fame, and she seems to move like a woman who increasingly understands that. And I think there's something important and need and curious about allowing her the space to be all of those things.

Kathryn Gehred  29:14
Yeah, because she at the end of the letter, she does mention she says, I beg you use your interest to get subscriptions for my book, as it is in my benefit. She is selling a book at the same time as all this is happening. 

Tara Bynum  29:25
She's selling a book and she knows that her book is selling as well, or is at the very least knows that she is doing the things that help the book sell this point it's published. So there are other letters after this that are in part about the sale of her book in Newport, Rhode Island. So she talks to Reverend Samuel Hopkins about it. She talks again to over Tanner mean at some point she talks about like making sure there are no pirated copies and New Haven, Connecticut, which she wants his ebook sold She wants the coins associated.

Kathryn Gehred  30:03
You mentioned that there's a fairly large Black population in Newport, Rhode Island. Do you think that a lot of Black people were buying this book as well as white people? Do we know much about that? 

Tara Bynum  30:12
I can't necessarily confirm or deny that. We should not assume that Wheatley is only selling to white people. And I think the Newport community is certainly an interesting case study because they buy books. I do know that about them. 

Kathryn Gehred  30:32
And so Ober helps her get subscriptions that comes up and later letters, they talk about that.

Tara Bynum  30:36
Yeah, for sure. She is successful, and she sends weekly money

Kathryn Gehred  30:41
So their good friends. And it's also kind of a business partnership, as well, a little bit. Yeah.

Tara Bynum  30:45
To me is almost an invitation to think about the fact that like, Uber Tanner is traipsing through Newport or going to church on Sundays, I'm saying you need to buy my girl's book. And people do. And

Kathryn Gehred  30:59
She's still enslaved at this point. Phyllis Wheatley was eventually freed. 

Tara Bynum  31:04
Wheatley is eventually freed. And Tanner, I don't know exactly when Tanner gets her freedom. When the British occupy Newport between 1776 and 1779. She goes to Worcester with the tanner family that is enslaved her Worcester, Massachusetts, I don't know what her status is, or when it changes.

Kathryn Gehred  31:31
I like the idea that she's using the time that she has to help another enslaved person when most of the time is supposed to be, you know, only for the benefit of her and slaver. She's benefiting who she wants to benefit sometimes.

Tara Bynum  31:42
Right when I think this is kind of returns me to my former point, it's like, who said that her time has to be exclusively for the people who own her, like according to? And if that is the case, like, why why would we believe her to be like? Sure. I'll give you every ounce of my time. There's something deeply absurd about that. Right?

Kathryn Gehred  32:08
Maybe legally, that was supposed to be the case. But practically, no, historically, When has that ever been the case? Like you said, She mentioned that her Mistress is sick. Do you know if that's Susanna whateleys final illness?

Tara Bynum  32:22
Yeah, I think Susanna Wheatley will very shortly pass away. I think in 1774,

Kathryn Gehred  32:29
I was sort of struck a little bit by the line where she talks about the young man who delivered the letter. So you mentioned that their teens or early 20s. And she says he seems to be a very clever man who knows you very well and is very complacent and agreeable. Do you think there is a little Is there a little hint in here? Do you think there might be like a little flirtation or something going on? Or maybe teasing over about it?

Tara Bynum  32:48
Well, I guess it's what I was gonna ask is like, who's the flirtation with? So is it the case that she is saying this? Because Uber has expressed an interest? Is she saying this? Because she is expressing an interest? Yeah, I have no idea.

Kathryn Gehred  33:08
My first thought was, because he says, he seems to know you very well, as maybe he was sort of asking her like, whether or not Uber would be interest. I read a lot of the letters I sometimes make some leaps that I probably should not. 

Tara Bynum  33:24
That's curious to me. For sure. It feels worth noting that over 10 or holds on to these letters. And you know, of the eight that extends she gives them to her pastor's wife. And I you know, at some point got to wondering like, if I'm giving my letters to my pastor's wife, at the end of my life, she gives them to her and about 1833 1834 ish. If she's given these letters over, like, has she actually given all of the letters? Do you give all of your letters to your pastor's wife? Especially all your letters that you're writing? Kind of in your 20s? So, you know, might the answer to our question is about this young man be in another set of letters where maybe he has a name maybe where we better understand the relationship? I can't know for sure. But it hit me at some point that tenor may have made like curatorial decision to not give the entire volume of letters to her pastor's wife, who at this point is also 50 years younger than her.

Kathryn Gehred  34:42
Yeah, and maybe that's why these are the most religious ones.

Tara Bynum  34:46
These are super churchy, because you give your churchy letters to your pastor's wife. For sure.

Kathryn Gehred  34:52
Yeah that there can be some curating happening I think makes perfect sense with this. I didn't even think about that though.

Tara Bynum  35:00
Yeah, if you're not going to give you know all of your letters to your pastor's wife, like, come on.

Kathryn Gehred  35:06
So to sort of sum up, what do you think is the most important thing for people to understand about this letter? Or to take away after this episode about Phyllis Wheatley?

Tara Bynum  35:15
Do you know I think that the most important thing is what I ended on, which is that obertan Or keeps these letters. I can't quite let that go. So this letter is from 1773. Tanner gives her letters to a pastor's wife, Catherine EADS Beecher, in 1833 ish. We get this glimpse of Wheatley his life, her trip to England, the sale of her books, the visit with the asthma because her friend for 50 years keeps these letters and without the help of plastic, without the help of like, she didn't laminate them. She didn't put them in some sort of acid free box, she ends up a refugee from the Revolutionary War living in western, there are other moves that she must have to make in that 50 year span of time. And yet, she keeps these letters. So what does that mean, when we think about their friendship? What does that mean, when we think about kind of the legacy of Wheatley, so 250 years this year since the poems on various subjects was published. And you know, I think that we know, Wheatley, because that book was published. We don't know anything about Tana because she didn't publish the book. But we know Tanner, because she gave her letters to caffeinated speech. My other takeaway is that situating, these two black women as they write their letters, as they are, you know, kind of shifting from being teenagers into 20 Somethings, their letter writing will eventually be disrupted by this war, they will have to move as a result of it. And I guess I'm so intrigued by the idea of like, if we put them at the center of the war, how does that change the way we talk about the war? How does it change the way we think about Wheatley and her letters and her poems? You know, we we lead with the fact that her book of poems comes back on the same boat that has the tea. What then does that mean? I'm struck by both of those things. Tanner's choice to remember her friend and Willie and Tanner is kind of part of this revolutionary eras fervor and very much inter woven into the fabric of it.

Kathryn Gehred  37:50
It's fascinating. It's a different side from the revolution than you usually think that I think that's so cool. Well, thank you so much, Dr. Biden, for coming on to the podcast. This has been such a great conversation.

Tara Bynum  38:02
I have enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for having me. This has been delightful. And anyone's ever stuck in an elevator with me just ask me about wheelies. Let us over Tanner. I'll just go there's so much more to say.

Kathryn Gehred  38:18
Thank you so much for coming on. For my listeners. We will link to the text of this letter and other show notes. And I am as ever, your most obedient and humble servant. Thank you very much. Your Most Obedient and Humble Servant is a production of R2 Studios at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. I'm Kathryn Gehred, the creator and host of this podcast. Jeanette Patrick and Jim Ambuske are the executive producers. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to listen to past episodes and check out more great podcasts from R2 Studios. We tell unexpected stories based on the latest research to connect listeners with the past. So head to R2 studios.org to start listening

Dr. Tara Bynum Profile Photo

Dr. Tara Bynum

Dr. Tara Bynum, Assistant Professor of English & African American Studies at the University of Iowa. Dr. Bynum is a scholar of early African American literary histories before 1800. She received her PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in Political Science from Barnard College. In 2022 she published Reading Pleasures: Everyday Black Living in Early America.