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Enslaved in the Gambia or Senegal,

scholars surmise, she survived the nauseous

and violent bottom line of the

Triangular Trade to be bought aged eight

as a maid for his wife by John Wheatley,

merchant and tailor of British-ruled Boston,

a known progressive in education.


She was christened ‘Phillis’ after the slave ship

that took her childhood. She was prodigious,

and was removed from domestic duties.

Tutored by his daughter, at twelve she knew




Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter – tale

of adultery and obsession –

was published in 1850. In the year

the Crimean War began, he became

the U.S. Consul in Liverpool,

a post gifted by his friend the President.

He did not like the job despite the fees

from the cargoes of cotton and molasses

hoisted ashore. Whether in a Hansom cab

home to his family in lodgings in the town,

on the steam ferry to the rented villa

in the gated park on the Wirral,



‘…sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments…’ TWEET, President Trump


In a letter to the New York Times three years

before the war, General Robert E. Lee

described slavery per se as ‘a moral

and political evil’ and, in the States,

‘a greater evil to the white man’

than the black. In 1857 Lee

had been his father-in-law’s executor.

George Custis had manumitted his slaves

on his death bed there and then but ‘no white man

was in the room’.



‘And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.’ DEUTERONOMY 12.3

‘Black deaths do not have a good press, especially when they occur in the custody of our custodians. The media leads the public to believe that our guardians can do no wrong. Racism leads them to believe that blacks can do no right. The silence of the custodial system is compounded by the silences of racism.’ DEADLY SILENCE: BLACK DEATHS IN CUSTODY,



‘O happy posterity, who will not experience such abysmal woe,  and will look upon our testimony as a fable.’ Francesco Petrarch


Somewhere near the estuary of the Don,

with its mudflats and meanders, north

of the Sea of Azov, and somewhere

near the Volga Delta, with its pelicans

and flamingos, north of the Caspian,

on the steppe lands are black rats and fleas

and yersinia pestis. The rats

like human warmth, and the fleas can leap.



For John Chapman


I can see for miles across the wolds, low hills

receding. The top of the rise is a field

of stubble that was rape. I imagine

last year’s sweet scented, false meadow of sharp

yellow and green. On the field’s far side

a flock of wild geese is grazing the stalks.

The cloudless, cerulean sky, empty

of con trails, seems closer, domed, as if curved

like our planet. In an ancient copse,

below the rise,