by:Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Yanga also known as Nyanga is believed to have been born in the year of 1545, on the 14th of May.Some researchers say he came from the Bran people of the coastal central African nation of Gabon, and was a member of its royal family. He was eventually captured and sold into slavery in Mexico (then called New Spain, which had the 5th largest slave population in the Americas at the time). There he would be given the name “Gaspar” Yanga.
In 1570, Yanga led a slave exodus into the highlands of Mexico, near the state of Veracruz. There, Yanga and his fugitive slave followers would build a maroon colony. Due to its isolation and mountainous location, the colony was well-protected for about 30 years. They survived by living off the land and by raiding caravans, and taking their goods.
A Form Of Freedom
In 1609 the colonial Spanish government, who were angry about the continued conflict with the Maroons decided to go to war with the fugitive slave colony,and to regain control of the territory. The Spanish would send over 500 troops to invade the disputed area, the Maroons had about 500 fighters, armed with various weapons including guns, stones, machetes, and bows and arrows. Because Yanga was an elderly man at this time in history, the Maroon army was led by a man named, Francisco de la Matosa, who was of Angolan descent. Yanga did however, assist his troops by sharing his experience and knowledge of the incredibly harsh terrain. Their objective was to frustrate the Spaniards and force them to negotiate. Once the Spanish army arrived in the Maroon colony, Yanga sent a captured Spaniard to speak with the Spanish troops with his terms of peace. The terms included an area of self-rule, like the colonial Spanish government had previously made with Native Mexican tribes. Part of the treaty would require the Maroons to pay them tribute, and to support the Spanish in any armed conflicts. The last neccessary concession required the Maroons to return any future runaways to the Spanish colonists. The Spanish inevitably would decide to refuse to sign the treaty with the Maroons, and instead decided to go to war against the Black freedom fighters. The Spanish with their superior weapons eventually advanced into the Maroon colony and burnt it to the ground. The Maroons would flee into the surrounding territory, which they knew extremely well, denying the the Spanish troops a final victory. The two sides would go on to battle each other for years, resulting in various stalemates.
In 1618 a treaty was eventually signed, Yanga and his family would be granted the right of rule in the Maroon colony.
Decades after the Independence of Mexico, Gaspar Yanga was designated a national hero of Mexico and El Primer Libertador de las Americas.
By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Phillis Wheatley is believed to of been born in 1753, in West Africa, most likely in Senegal or Gambia. At around the age of 7 or 8, some historians say she was likely sold by a local African chief to a slave trader, who brought her to the British colony of Massachusetts. She was eventually resold to John Wheatley, who was a successful businessman, who bought her to be a servant girl for his wife, Sussana. The Wheatley family gave her their surname of Wheatley (which was common during the time-period if the slave was given a surname), and then the now-Wheatley was given the name Phillis by her new owners. For the very racist time-period, the Wheatley’s were very progressive for thar era, especially the family patriarch, John, who instructed his children Mary and Nathaniel to give her an education in reading and writing. At the age of 12, Phillis Wheatley was able to read the bible, classical Latin and Greek literature.
The Published Poet
At the age of 14-years-old, Phillis Wheatley was so gifted in her writings that her slave owner’s the Wheatley family decided that that she should focus on her writing, instead of domestic work, which they left to the other slaves. Her first poem was “To the University of Cambridge, in New England”. In 1773, she traveled to London, England with the Wheatley’s son, Nathaniel, because the Wheatleys believed she would have a far-better chance of getting her book of poetry published in the United Kingdom (than she would have in America). While in England, Phillis Wheatley met several members of Britain’s high society, which included the Lord Mayor of London. One of the people interested in the works of Phillis Wheatley, was Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon. She used her influence to help Phillis Wheatley get her volume of poetry published, and she served as a patron of Phillis Wheatley’s written works.
Wheatley’s Poem on Slavery, and her relationship with her former masters who raised, educated and treated her relatively well:
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
Later In Life
In November of 1773, after her book of poetry was published, the Wheatley family gave Phillis her freedom. As a now free Black woman, she would go on to marry a free Black man named John Peters, who was a grocer. The new couple suffered through a lot of unfortunate heartache and misery, which included poverty and living in extremely harsh conditions, and most devastating, the death of two babies. In 1775, Wheatley sent a copy of one of her poems to the then-general George Washington. The poem was titled “To His Excellency, George Washington”. Washington was so impressed that he invited Wheatley to meet him at his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wheatley would take him up on his offer, and met him on March in 1776. Later in that year, the political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary, Thomas Paine, republished the poem in the Pennsylvania Gazette. In 1779, Wheatley submitted her proposal for a second volume poetry, but because of her financial situation and the loss of her former supporters since emancipation, she was unable to get a full book of poetry published. However, she was able to get several of the poems that were intended for her second book, published in several pamphlets and newspapers. In 1784, financial struggles would cause her husband to be arrested and placed in debtors prison. To make ends meet, Wheatley worked as a scullery maid, so that she could take care of herself and her ill-infant son. On December 5, 1784, Wheatley died at the very young age of 31, her sickly son would die a little while afterwards.
Post Death Honors And Legacy
In 2002, Temple University professor and author Molefi Kete Asante placed Wheatley on his list of 100 greatest African-Americans. In 2003, Wheatley along with Abigail Adams and Lucy Stone were featured in a sculpture on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2012, a new building for the school of Communications and Information Sciences at Robert Morris University was named in her honor.