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  • Haley Jensen

Obour Tanner

Obour (sometimes spelt Abour and Arbour by Wheatley in different letters) Tanner was a writer from Africa who worked as a servant for James Tanner in Newport, Rhode Island.

In the she refers to herself as a servant and does not mention being enslaved.

Wheatley was very close with Tanner calling her sister in letters.

Their surviving letters are very important for illustrating the daily lives of black women in revolutionary New England.

Most authors in the 18th century were white rich men, these letters offer a different perspective of daily life in the colonies.

The women passionately discuss evangelical Christianity in their letters.

Their passionate faith most likely introduced the girls to each other being a similar Evangelical group in New England.

Their correspondence is important for showing friendship and faith between black women facing extraordinary difficulties in 18th century America.

This letter is important as it discusses Wheatley's London trip and her surprise to being treated so kindly by the British aristocrats. This suggests Wheatley was not treated well in Boston by her master's family and the general public. Wheatley finally got the fame and respect she deserved for her poetry in London.

Letter from Phillis Wheatley to Obour Tanner, 30 October 1773

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 Bene volent 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”


The letter above is available for free at the Massachusetts Historical Archive, the website has many of Wheatley and Tanner's letters available to read.

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