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Freneau, Philip - History

Freneau, Philip - History

Freneau, Philip (1752-1832) Poet: Born in New York City, on January 2, 1752; Philip Freneau graduated from the College of New Jersey (later called Princeton) in 1771. While still in college, he published some poetry. In 1776, he traveled to the Danish West Indies, where he wrote several of his longest poems. After visiting Bermuda in 1778, he returned to North American and began writing for "The United States Magazine." He traveled to the West Indies gain in 1780, but was captured by an English cruiser. Freneau bitterly recorded his experiences in the poem, "The British Prison-Ship." When he was freed the nest year, he frequently made submissions of poetry and prose to the "Freeman's Journal." After the Revolutionary War, he found work as an editor; and as a master of a vessel in voyages to the West Indies and the southern states. In 1790, he became editor of the New York "Daily Advertiser." Thomas Jefferson learned of him, and appointed him translator for the State Department, while Freneau also became editor of the "National Gazette." Freneau's violent attacks on the Federalists angered Alexander Hamilton, the major Federalist leader. Hamilton accused Freneau of being Jefferson's tool, so Jefferson wrote an explanation to President Washington. Freneau began publishing the "Jersey Chronicle" from his home in Mount Pleasant, New Jersey. This venture lasted a short time, as did his 1797 issuing of the New York "Time-piece and Literary Companion." He lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity. He died on December 18, 1832, near Freehold, New Jersey, as a result of exposure. Although he was certainly not the first important American poet, Freneau is believed to be the first whose work was of major literary significance.


Early life and education

Freneau was born in New York City, the oldest of the five children of Huguenot wine merchant Pierre Freneau and his Scottish wife. Philip was raised in Matawan, New Jersey. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), where he studied under William Tennent, Jr.

Freneau's close friend at Princeton was James Madison, a relationship that would later contribute to his establishment as the editor of the National Gazette. Freneau family tradition suggests that Madison became acquainted with and fell in love with the poet's sister, Mary, during visits to their home while he was studying at Princeton. While tradition has it that Mary rejected Madison's repeated marriage proposals, this anecdote is undocumented and unsupported by other evidence.

Freneau graduated from Princeton in 1771, having already written the poetical History of the Prophet Jonah, and, with Hugh Henry Brackenridge, the prose satire Father Bombo's Pilgrimage to Mecca.


Philip Freneau

Philip Freneau was born in New York of Huguenot ancestry in 1752, and died near Freehold, New Jersey, in 1832.

Well versed in the classics in Monmouth County under the tutelage of William Tennent, Philip entered Princeton as a sophomore in 1768, but the joy of the occasion was marred by his father's financial losses and death the year before. In spite of financial hardships, Philip's Scottish mother believed that her oldest of five children would graduate and join the clergy. Though he was a serious student of theology and a stern moralist all his life, Freneau found his true calling in literature. As his roommate and close friend James Madison recognized early, Freneau's wit and verbal skills would make him a powerful wielder of the pen and a formidable adversary on the battlefields of print. Freneau soon became the unrivaled "poet of the Revolution" and is still widely regarded as the "Father of American Literature". Although Freneau had produced several accomplished private poems before college, it was the intense experience of pre-Revolutionary-War Princeton that turned the poet's interest to public writing. Political concerns led Madison, Freneau, and their friends Hugh Henry Brackenridge and William Bradford, Jr., to revive the defunct Plain Dealing Club as the American Whig Society. Their verbal skirmishes with the conservative Cliosophic Society provided ample opportunities for sharpening Freneau's skills in prose and poetic satire. Charged with literary and political enthusiasm, Freneau and Brackenridge collaborated on a rollicking, picaresque narrative, Father Bombo's Pilgrimage to Mecca in Arabia, which presents comic glimpses of life in eighteenth-century America. This piece, recently acquired by Princeton and published by the University Library (1975), may well be the first work of prose fiction written in America.

During their senior year Freneau and Brackenridge labored long on another joint project to which Freneau contributed the greater share. Their composition was a patriotic poem of epic design, The Rising Glory of America, a prophecy of a time when a united nation should rule the vast continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At the commencement exercises of September 1771, Brackenridge read this poem to a "vast concourse of the politest company," gathered at Nassau Hall. The poem articulated the vision and fervor of a young revolutionary generation.

After he graduated from Princeton in 1771, he was author, editor, government official, trader, and farmer. He tried teaching and soon found that he hated it. As regards the genesis of his poems, two facts in his life are especially important. His newspaper work encouraged a fatal production of the satirical and humorous verse that gave him reputation and his trading voyages inspired poems descriptive of the scenery of the southern islands, and made possible what is perhaps his most original work, his naval ballads.

He felt a deep obligation to perform public service, and his satires against the British in 1775 were written out of fervent patriotism. At the same time he distrusted politics and had a personal yearning to escape social turmoil and war. The romantic private poet within him struggled against his public role. Thus, paradoxically, in 1776 the "poet of the revolution" set sail for the West Indies where he spent two years writing of the beauties of nature and learning navigation. Suddenly in 1778, he returned to New Jersey and joined the militia and sailed the Atlantic as a ship captain. After suffering for six weeks on a British prison ship, he poured his bitterness into his political writing and into much of his voluminous poetry of the early 1780s.

By 1790, at the age of thirty-eight, with two collections of poetry in print and a reputation as a fiery propagandist and skillful sea captain, Freneau decided to settle down. He married Eleanor Forman and tried to withdraw to a quiet job as an assistant editor in New York. But politics called again. His friends Madison and Jefferson persuaded him to set up his own newspaper in Philadelphia to counter the powerful Hamiltonian paper of John Fenno. Freneau's National Gazette upheld Jefferson's "Republican" principles and even condemned Washington's foreign policy.

After another decade of feverish public action, Freneau withdrew again in 1801, when Jefferson was elected president. He retired to his farm and returned occasionally to the sea. During his last thirty years, he worked on his poems, wrote essays attacking the greed and selfishness of corrupt politicians, and sold pieces of his lands to produce a small income. He discovered that he had given his best years of literary productivity to his country, for it had been in the few stolen moments of the hectic 1780s that he found the inspiration for his best poems, such as The Indian Burying Ground and The Wild Honeysuckle.


Freneau, Philip - History

Chapter 2: Early American Literature 1700-1800

Philip Morin Freneau
1752-1832

Poems. Edited with a critical introd. by Harry Hayden Clark. NY: Hafner Pub. Co., 1960, 1929. PS755 .A5 C6

The poems of Philip Freneau, poet of the American Revolution. (1902) Edited for the Princeton Historical Association by Fred Lewis Pattee. NY: Russell & Russell, 1963. 3 vols. PS755 .A2

Father Bombo's pilgrimage to Mecca, 1770. by Hugh Henry Brackenridge and Philip Freneau edited, with an introd., by Michael Davitt Bell. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton U Library, 1975. PS708 B5 F3

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Blakemore, Steven. Literature, Intertextuality, and the American Revolution: From Common Sense to 'Rip Van Winkle'. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2012.

Goudie, Sean X. Creole America: The West Indies and the Formation of Literature and Culture in the New Republic. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2006.

Hollander, John. ed. American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, I: Philip Freneau to Walt Whitman. NY: Library of America, 1993.

I. Freneau as Leader of 18th Century Naturalism

1. Fresh interest in nature.

2. The belief that nature is a revelation of God.

3. Humanitarian sympathy for the humble and oppressed.

4. The faith that people are naturally good.

5. That they lived idyllic and benevolent lives in a primitive past before the advent of civilization.

6. The radical doctrine that the golden age will dawn again when social institutions are modified, since they are responsible for existing evil.

1. Poet of American Independence: Freneau provides incentive and inspiration to the revolution by writing such poems as "The Rising Glory of America" and "Pictures of Columbus."

2. Journalist: Freneau was editor and contributor of The Freeman's Journal (Philadelphia) from 1781-1784. In his writings, he advocated the essence of what is known as Jeffersonian democracy - decentralization of government, equality for the masses, etc.

3. Freneau's Religion: Freneau is described as a deist - a believer in nature and humanity but not a pantheist. In deism, religion becomes an attitude of intellectual belief, not a matter of emotional of spiritual ecstasy. Freneau shows interest and sympathy for the humble and the oppressed.

4. Freneau as Father of American Poetry: His major themes are death, nature, transition, and the human in nature. All of these themes become important in 19th century writing. His famous poems are "The Wild Honey-Suckle" (1786), "The Indian Burying Ground" (1787), "The Dying Indian: Tomo Chequi" (1784), "The Millennium" (1797), "On a Honey Bee" (1809), "To a Caty-Did" (1815), "On the Universality and Other Attributes of the God of Nature," "On the Uniformity and Perfection of Nature," and "On the Religion of Nature" (the last three written in 1815).

| Top | Philip Freneau (1752-1832): A Brief Biography

A Student Project by Nicholas von Teck

In 1598 King Henry IV of France issued the Edict of Nantes, promising to protect the rights of his Huguenot (Protestant) subjects and allowing them to worship in their own churches. The Bourbon King Louis XIV rescinded the Edict of Nantes with the Act of Revocation of 1685, condemning the Protestant Huguenots to trials of heresy by the Roman Church those who were not massacred fled to any place that would take them. Two large communities of Huguenots settled in the colonies of North America: one in the area around Charleston, South Carolina and the other, larger colony in the city of Nieuw Amsterdam. Shortly after the arrival of the Huguenots in Nieuw Holland, that colony was forfeited to the United Kingdom and renamed New York. In the early but nonetheless cosmopolitan environs of New York Town, these French Protestants found themselves with Dutch colonists, English colonial administrators, Jewish-German merchants, African slaves, and Native American converts. One of these Huguenot families was the Fresneaus from La Rochelle, France (Austin 50). They arrived there from England in 1709 (Leary 5).

After a few generations, the Fresneaus who fought for space with the other New Yorkers in the small area of the city bounded by the Hudson and East rivers and Wall Street became the Freneaus who owned a prosperous plantation called Mount Pleasant in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and had a thousand slaves ( Clark xiv). Some traditions remain in families: Mont Plaisant was the name of the residence of the Fresneaus in La Rochelle, France (Austin 65). Despite being gentlemen farmers, each successive generation of Fresneaus carried on the family trade in wine, begun long before the Edict of Nantes, and Philip Freneau made many voyages to bring back port wines and madeiras (Clark xiv).

Philip Morin Freneau was born at Mount Pleasant on 2 January 1752 (Old Style: the United Kingdom and its colonies had yet to convert to the Julian calendar and still used the Gregorian at this time &emdash as a result, an Englishman traveling to the Continent had to set his calendar ahead twelve days after crossing the Channel). Philip was the eldest of the five children of Pierre Freneau and Agnes Watson (Austin 65), and the first to use the spelling Freneau (Bowden 15).

Philip was schooled at Mount Pleasant until he was boarded with the Reverend William Tennent of Tennent's Church, New Jersey for his preparatory education in his tenth year in 1762 (Austin 72). His first known poem, "The Wild Honeysuckle," was penned about this time the actual date of inscription is unknown, but tradition has Freneau writing it shortly before arriving at Tennent's Church (Austin 70). A little over three years later, in February, 1766, he was enrolled in the Penlopen Latin School in Monmouth under the tutelage of the Reverend Alexander Mitchell he remained there until he was admitted to Nassau Hall at Princeton College, Princeton, New Jersey in 1768. During his time at Penlopen Latin, Philip's father died (Austin 73). Philip's mother, however, decided that Philip should continue his education and sent him along to Nassau Hall in due course, but with a tacit understanding between mother and son that he was to seek a degree in Divinity. He didn't (Leary 50).

The roster of Philip's classmates reads like a litany of the American Pantheon: the Honorable Justices Hugh Brackenridge and Brockholst Livingston of the Supreme Court of the United States Gunning Bedford, a framer of the Constitution Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States Colonel Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee of Virginia and James Madison, Fourth President of the United States of America and several others, in addition to having as the president of his college the Reverend Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Austin 74). Seldom has such a small group of students achieved such enduring legacy for Freneau's graduating class of 1770 held but ten students (Austin 75).

| Top | During his sophomore year he wrote "The Poetical History of the Prophet Jonah," a "rhythymical (sic) poem, or 'versified paraphrase' to use his own expression." (Austin 76) At one-hundred-thirty-five lines it was considered remarkable for so young a poet and much commented on at the time, both at Princeton and at rival colleges such as Kings in New York, Harvard in Boston, and William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia (Austin 78). For graduation in 1771, he collaborated with (later Mr. Justice) Brackenridge on a poem they recited, "The Rising Glory of America," a blank verse dialogue (Austin 78). Brackenridge had earlier collaborated with Freneau on the mock epic "Father Bombo's Pilgrimage" (Bowden 22). Freneau also immortalizes Witherspoon in the poem "Caledonian Sage" and praised the "liberal education" he gained under Witherspoon's administration (Bowden 17). Among other activities, Witherspoon instituted student orations as a form of entertainment, and even allowed the students to chose their subjects for discourse, which Freneau satirizes in "The Distrest Orator." (Bowden 19) Interestingly, despite being a prodigal and prodigious student, Freneau did not attend his own graduation from Princeton the fact that his mother remarried may have had something to do with it, but this period of Freneau's life is vague (Bowden 28).

Freneau's first occupation was as a school teacher in Flatbush, Bruecklin (Brooklyn) County on Nassau (Long) Island. He lasted thirteen days with "the youth of that detested place" and "finally bid adieu" to "that brainless crew, … devoid of reason and grace." (Austin 80) He said his employers were "gentlemen of New York: bullies, merchants, and scoundrels." (Austin 80) In the same letter to a classmate, he also mentions that he had just written and published a poem of "some four-hundred-and-fifty lines … called 'The American Village' and a few short pieces as well." (Austin 80) However, he was soon forced to accept another teaching position, this one at Somerset Academy near Baltimore, Maryland, where he stayed until the end of term, 1773.

Freneau had evidently collected his year's salary from Flatbush in advance, "some forty pounds," and expected his ex-employers to "trounce" him if they should find him (Austin 80). A Jamaican planter named Hanson invited Freneau to pay a prolonged visit to Hanson's plantation. As Hanson was also master of his own ship and was preparing to ship on the next tide, Freneau thought it behooved himself to clamber on board (Austin 83). During the passage, the first mate died and Freneau found himself learning the art of navigation by the "trial-by-fire" method (Austin 83). He discovered that he enjoyed it and eventually took master's papers (Austin 83).

During his prolonged stay in Jamaica, he developed a dislike for slavery. This is interesting because, like most large farmers of the era, the Freneaus had both house and field slaves at Mount Pleasant, although they also had tenant farmers as well on their fairly large holdings (Austin 60). Freneau obviously villianized Hanson by creating the character of Sir Tobey the slave-owner in the poem "To Sir Tobey" (Austin 83). During the next few years, Freneau sailed as master around the Caribbean and visited the Bermudas, the Danish Virgin Islands, and the Gulf of Mexico (Austin 83). These travels were the inspiration for such poems as "House of Night" and "The Beauties of Santa Cruz"(Austin 85). In 1775 he also publishes "American Liberty" (Bowden 13).

While Freneau sailed to and fro between the balmy Carib and the Delaware Bay, hostilities between Mother England and her colonies were growing to a fighting pitch. As soon as Freneau learned of the outbreak of revolution, he sailed back to New Jersey in the bark Amanda (it may not have actually been his, for he was recorded as being only the master of it) (Austin 105). Interestingly, the name for the "beauty" for whom his sings praises in his poem of the Caribbean poems is "Amanda" (Austin 86).

Freneau arrives at Mount Pleasant to find it burned, and his mother and younger siblings living elsewhere the Battle of Monmouth had been fought on Mount Pleasant (Austin 103). Freneau arranges for "lettres of marque," authorizing him to be a privateer and attack English shipping in order to seize cargo and vessels (Austin 104). While the bark Amanda sails under another master with him as the recorded owner, Freneau orders a new sloop built at Philadelphia he names her Aurora (Austin 104).

| Top | On 25 May 1778, Aurora left the ways at Philadelphia and stood out into Delaware Bay for Cape Henlopen and the Atlantic Ocean. Less than six hours later, Aurora had been chased and run aground by the English Captain Sir George Collier in HMS Iris (which before her own capture was ex-USS Hancock) and Freneau was captured (Austin 110). Lacking gallantry usually expected in a ship's master, Freneau at first denies he is the master when confronted by the prize-captain of HMS Iris (Leary 82). After he is handcuffed below decks with the "stench of seamen," Freneau finds a Tory aboard the frigate who knows him and begs recognition (Leary 82). Freneau was transported to the prison ship HMS Scorpion in New York Harbor, and later transferred again to the prison hospital ship HMS Hunter (Austin 113). This internment of nearly eighteen months was the genesis for the poem "The Prison Ship" (650 lines published in 1780) in which he "compares the flight of [the] Aurora to the flight of Hector pursued by Achilles." (Austin 109) During this time, however, he does manage to contribute to Brackenridge's United States Magazine (Bowden 13). Freneau never recovered from the financial loss of Aurora (Clark xxiii).

He was paroled on condition that he not resume arms against the King, and he evidently kept his word, but Freneau must have reckoned the old saw about the pen being mightier than the sword had some verisimilitude for he continued to raise his quill in rebellion for the rest of the Revolution (Austin 121). He found work as a printer and editor with the Freeman's Journal in Philadelphia (Bowden 13). Freneau wrote poems on various patriotic subjects such as the departure of the traitor Benedict Arnold, the Battle of Temple Hill, the melting by the printer Isaac Sears of his type into bullets, etc … (Austin 133). By 1786, he was master of the brig Washington and making round-trips to the Madeiras (Austin 138). He left behind a newly published volume, The Poems of Philip Freneau (Bowden 13). The next year, 1787, he returned long enough to publish a second volume, A Journey from Philadelphia to New York before again standing out to sea (Bowden 13). 1788 saw the publication of a third volume, The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. Philip Freneau (Bowden 13).

In 1789 Freneau married Helen Forman of New Jersey, a sister of General David Forman, one of the founders of the Order of the Cincinnati (Austin 147). Helen Freneau is recorded as having a pleasant and "poetic" personality, and was a gracious hostess (Austin 149).

Freneau was offered the position of editor of the Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, but before he could assume that position he was induced to become editor of the National Gazette instead at the paltry salary of $250 per annum (Austin 152). Freneau had never financially recovered from the loss of Aurora, and was still trying to run his family's estate at Mount Pleasant, and maintain all who depended on him: "family and slaves." (Austin 152) Despite writing "To Sir Tobey" nearly twenty years before, Freneau was still a slaveholder himself.

| Top | The Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, offered Freneau the clerkship of "Interpreter of the French language for the Department of State" in 1793 (Austin 153). This raised a hue-and-cry of such proportions, and the appointment was so loudly denounced, that the offer was withdrawn for some reason, many Philadephians at that time suspected Jefferson and Freneau of collusion and intrigue (Austin 156). Since Philadelphia was the seat of government at the time, and since Benjamin Franklin was then opposing Jefferson as to which form of government the foundling United States should adopt, Freneau was likely just a handy target for the pro-Franklin faction in their bid to undermine the Jeffersonian Republican-Democrats (Austin 156). The idea seems to have been that a clerk under Jefferson who just happened to be the editor of a major newspaper would give the Jeffersonians a propaganda leverage that would be nearly impossible to undermine if it were not stopped immediately (Austin 156). Austin qoutes a Mr. Benjamin as saying, "What Tyrtaeus was to the Spartans, was Freneau to the Republicans or anti-Federalists." (160) The allusion is that the National Gazette was, with Freneau as editor, a "powerful political paper." (Austin 160)

Freneau found himself unpopular with Martha Washington because he wrote he thought her coach, "a very large cream-colored chariot of globular form, surrounded by cupids supporting festoons of flowers emblematically arranged around the panel-work," was not in keeping with the simplicity the Jeffersonians thought more appropriate for a Republic (Austin 163). The President called him "that rascal Freneau (Leary 3). He also found himself attacked by Vice-President John Adams and Benjamin Franklin for supporting the French Consul "Citizen" Edmund Genet in organizing "Jacobin" clubs in the United States (Austin 164). President Washington was not in favor of an open coalition with France since he did not want to force the United States into another war with the United Kingdom therefore he did everything he could to ignore the rabble-rousing Citizen Genet instigated by his "appeals to the people" from their "brothers in France" (Austin 164). Many in the United States, and especially the Federalists, viewed Freneau's National Gazette as nothing more than a blank sheet for the diatribes of Jefferson and Genet (Austin 170).

Freneau quit as editor of the National Gazette in 1793 and retired to Mount Pleasant (Austin 176). The National Gazette itself folded it seems that Freneau also owned the press and the type and was unwilling to sell he built a small printshop near the rebuilt Mount Pleasant and amused himself "printing the various inspirations that visited him." (Austin 176) He published his own works, including an almanac, and translations of French works as well (Austin 176). The almanac included his poem "The Pyramid of the Fifteen American States." (Austin 180) Another publication was the beginning of The Jersey Chronical, an eight-page quarto described as a "spirited little journal" it lasted until 1796 (Austin 186). He then became editor of The Time-Piece and Literary Companion, a "miscellaneous" paper issued every three weeks it also folded (Austin 189). Another volume of his own work, Poems Written Between the Years 1768 & 1794, was printed during this time in that same, small print shop at Mount Pleasant (Bowden 13).

In 1802 Freneau went into partnership with his younger brother Pierre (aka Peter) Freneau and bought the brig Washington which Philip Freneau had earlier mastered (Austin 191). Philip Freneau again made voyages in the Atlantic Ocean, but this time earning the sobriquet "the sailor poet." (Austin 191) A major work to come out of this period is "The Storm." (Austin 196)

| Top | However, Freneau again settled down &emdash sort of: he had established a print shop at 10 North Alley, Philadelphia and was also at home at Mount Pleasant. He visited often at the home of DeWitt Clinton in New York City (whose wife was the daughter of Citizen Genet and a co-francophone herself) (Austin 203). Freneau also wrote extensively to correspondents during this period. He also wrote a series of letters to the Philadelphia Aurora under the pseudonym Robert Slender, which were later collected in Letters on Various Interesting and Important Subjects (Bowden 14). Still, for reasons unclear, from 1809 until 1814 the poet in Freneau seems to have been unusually silent (Bowden 125). This is bothersome: where was the patriotic voice that had yelled during the Revolution? Why was Freneau so silent during the War of 1812?

Freneau published Poems Written and Published During the American Revolutionary War in 1809 and A Collection of Poems Chiefly on American Affairs in 1815 (Bowden 14). While these poems were reviewed kindly by The Port-Folio, a conservative and Federalist organ, they take away the feeling of Freneau's raging voice, and substitute one that seems imitative, especially noticeable in his "nonoccasional" poems (Bowden 171).

In 1818 Mount Pleasant burned again. Many of the writings of Freneau burned with it (Austin 203). Between the second burning of Mount Pleasant and Freneau's death in 1832, he produced little. It seems as though the fire, which consumed a fine library and much unpublished work, was too much of a loss. He did not rebuild and he finally let the estate be sold to pay off the creditors who had hounded him since the loss of Aurora to the British in 1778 (Clark xxiii). The writings he did produce during this last period have been trivialized as "lost" between his inclination for the Romantics and his franco-Calvinist heritage, although Ralph Waldo Emerson praises the lack in Freneau's writings of what he called "a foolish constancy." (Clark xliii, li) He continued to take an interest in politics and literature, but he seldom even wrote letters after that (Austin 206). However, he did publish "Recollections of Past Times and Events" in the Trenton, New Jersey True American in 1822 (Bowden 14).

In the evening of 18 December 1832, at the age of almost 81, Philip Freneau walked home from a meeting of the circulating library in Philadelphia in a snowstorm he fell, broke his hip, and froze to death. His body was found the next day. His tombstone begins, simply: POET'S GRAVE.

During his lifetime, Freneau printed a dozen books and wrote hundreds of poems, from doggerel to epics. He has a distinguished presence on the Internet: a search of "Freneau" on the search engine Google returns three-thousand related articles.

Austin, Mary S. Philip Freneau, The Poet of the Revolution: A History of His Life and Times. 1901 Ed. Helen Kearny Vreeland. Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1968.

Bowden, Mary Weatherspoon. Philip Freneau. Boston: Twayne Pubs. 1976.

Clark, Harry Hayden. Forward. Poems of Freneau. Ed. Harry Hayden Clark. New York: Hafner Publishing Co. 1929.

Leary, Lewis. That Rascal Freneau. New York: Octagon Books. 1964.

1. Although Freneau's "To Sir Toby" is ostensibly about a sugar planter on the island of Jamaica, examine the poem for evidence that Freneau is also writing about southern slavery. Locate references to slavery in his other anthologized poems and summarize the way slavery, for Freneau, contradicts eighteenth-century principles of reason and human rights.

2. Evaluate the language of Freneau's historical poems against specific passages in Paine or Jefferson, and discuss the relative effectiveness of political and poetic voices within the context of American revolution.


Sketches of American History

This American world, all our histories say,
Secluded from Europe, long centuries lay,
And peopled by beings whom white-men detest,
The sons of the Tartars, that came from the west.

These Indians, ‘tis certain, were here long before ye all,
And dwelt in their wigwams from time immemorial
In a mere state of nature, untutored, untaught,
They did as they pleased, and they spoke as they thought—

No priests they had then for the cure of their souls,
No lawyers, recorders, or keepers of rolls
No learned physicians vile nostrums concealed—
Their druggist was Nature—her shop was the field.

In the midst of their forests how happy and blest,
In the skin of a bear or buffalo drest!
No care to perplex, and no luxury seen
But the feast, and the song, and the dance on the green.

Some bowed to the moon, and some worshipped the sun,
And the king and the captain were centered in one
In a cabin they met, in their councils of state,
Where age and experience alone might debate.

With quibbles they never essayed to beguile,
And Nature had taught them the orator's style
No pomp they affected, not quaintly refined
The nervous idea that glanced on the mind.

When hunting or battle invited to arms,
The women they left to take care of their farms—
The toils of the summer did winter repay,
While snug in their cabins they snored it away.

If death came among them his dues to demand,
They still had some prospects of comfort at hand—
The dead man they sent to the regions of bliss,
With his bottle and dog, and his fair maids to kiss.

Thus happy they dwelt in a rural domain,
Uninstructed in commerce, unpractised in gain,
’Till, taught by the loadstone to traverse the seas,
Columbus came over, that bold Genoese.

From records authentic, the date we can shew,
One thousand four hundred and ninety and two
Years, borne by the seasons, had vanished away,
Since the babe in the manger at Bethlehem lay.

What an æra was this, above all that had passed,
To yield such a treasure, discovered at last—
A new world, in value exceeding the old,
Such mountains of silver, such torrents of gold!

Yet the schemes of Columbus, however well planned
Were scarcely sufficient to find the main land
On the islands alone with the natives he spoke,
Except when he entered the great Oronoque:

In this he resembled old Moses, the Jew,
Who, roving about with his wrong-headed crew,
When at length the reward was no longer denied,
From the top of Mount Pisgah he saw it, and died.

These islands and worlds in the watery expanse,
Like most mighty things, were the offspring of chance,
Since steering for Asia, Columbus they say,
Was astonished to find such a world in his way!

No wonder, indeed, he was smit with surprize—
This empire of Nature was new to their eyes—
Cut short in their course by so splendid a scene,
Such a region of wonders intruding between!

Yet great as he was, and deserving no doubt,
We have only to thank him for finding the rout
These climes to the northward, more stormy and cold,
Were reserved for the efforts of Cabot the bold.

Where the sun in December appears to decline
Far off to the southward, and south of the line,
A merchant of Florence, more fortunate still,
Explored a new track, and discovered Brazil:

Good Fortune, Vespucius, pronounced thee her own,
Or else to mankind thou hadst scarcely been known—
By giving thy name, thou art ever renowned—
Thy name to a world that another had found!

Columbia, the name was, that merit decreed,
But Fortune and Merit have never agreed—
Yet the poets, alone, with commendable care
Are vainly attempting the wrong to repair.

The bounds I prescribe to my verse are too narrow
To tell of the conquests of Francis Pizarro
And Cortez ’tis needless to bring into view,
One Mexico conquered, the other Peru.

Montezuma with credit in verse might be read,
But Dryden has told you the monarch is dead!
And the woes of his subjects—what torments they bore,
Las Casas, good bishop, has mentioned before:

Let others be fond of their stanzas of grief—
I hate to descant on the fall of the leaf—
Two scenes are so gloomy, I view them with pain,
The annals of death, and the triumphs of Spain.

Poor Atahualpa we cannot forget—
He gave them his utmost—yet died in their debt,
His wealth was a crime that they could not forgive,
And when they possessed it, forbade him to live.

Foredoomed to misfortunes (that come not alone)
He was the twelfth Inca that sat on the throne,
Who fleecing his brother of half his domains,
At the palace of Cusco confined him in chains.

But what am I talking—or where do I roam?
’Tis time that our story was brought nearer home—
From Florida’s cape did Cabot explore
To the fast frozen region of cold Labradore.

In the year fourteen hundred and ninety and eight
He came, as the annals of England relate,
But finding no gold in the lengthy domain,
And coasting the country, he left it again.

Next Davis—then Hudson adventured, they say,
One found out a streight, and the other a bay,
Whose desolate region, or turbulent wave
One present bestowed him—and that was a grave.

In the reign of a virgin (as authors discover)
Drake, Hawkins, and Raleigh in squadrons came over
While Barlow and Grenville succeeded to these,
Who all brought their colonies over the seas.

These, left in a wilderness teeming with woes,
The natives, suspicious, concluded them foes,
And murdered them all without notice or warning,
Ralph Lane, with his vagabonds, scarcely returning.

In the reign of king James (and the first of the name,)
George Summers, with Hacluit, to Chesapeake came,
Where far in the forests, not doomed to renown,
On the river Powhatan they built the first town.

Twelve years after this, some scores of dissenters
To the northernmost district came seeking adventures
Outdone by the bishops, those great faggot fighters
They left them to rule with their cassocks and mitres.

Thus banished forever, and leaving the sod,
The first land they saw was the pitch of Cape Cod,
Where famished with hunger and quaking with cold
They planned their New-Plymouth—so called from the old.

They were, without doubt, a delightful collection—
Some came to be rid of a Stuart’s direction,
Some sailed with a view to dominion and riches,
Some to pray without book, and a few to hang witches.

Some, came on the Indians to shed a new light,
Convinced long before that their own must be right,
And that all who had died in the centuries past
On the devil’s lee shore were eternally cast.

These exiles were formed in a whimsical mould,
And were awed by their priests, like the Hebrews of old
Disclaimed all pretences to jesting and laughter,
And sighed their lives through, to be happy hereafter.

On a crown immaterial their hearts were intent,
They looked towards Zion, wherever they went,
Did all things in hopes of a future reward,
And worried mankind—for the sake of the Lord.

With rigour excessive they strengthened their reign,
Their laws were conceived in the ill-natured strain,
With mystical meanings the saint was perplext,
And the flesh and the devil were slain by a text.

The body was scourged, for the good of the soul,
All folly discouraged by peevish controul,
A knot on the head was the sign of no grace,
And the Pope and his comrade were pictured in lace.

A stove in their churches, or pews lined with green,
Were horrid to think of, much more to be seen,
Their bodies were warmed with the linings of love,
And the fire was sufficient that flashed from above.

’Twas a crime to assert that the moon was opaque,
To say the earth moved, was to merit the stake
And he that could tell an eclipse was to be,
In the college of Satan had took his degree.

On Sundays their faces were dark as a cloud—
The road to the meeting was only allowed,
And those they caught rambling, on business or pleasure,
Were sent to the stocks, to repent at their leisure.

This day was the mournfullest day in the week—
Except on religion, none ventured to speak—
This day was the day to examine their lives,
To clear off old scores, and to preach to their wives.

Their houses were forts, that seemed proof against light
Their parlours, all day, were the blackness of night:
And, as if at their thresholds a cannon did roar,
The animals hardly dared open their door
'Till the sun disappeared—then, like a mole's snout
In the dusk of the evening, their noses popped out.

In the school of oppression though woefully taught,
’Twas only to be the oppressors they sought
All, all but themselves were be-deviled and blind,
And their narrow-souled creed was to serve all mankind.

This beautiful system of nature below
They neither considered, nor wanted to know,
And called it a dog-house wherein they were pent,
Unworthy themselves, and their mighty descent.

They never perceived that in Nature's wide plan
There must be that whimsical creature called Man,
Far short of the rank he affects to attain,
Yet a link in its place, in creation's vast chain.

Whatever is foreign to us and our kind
Can never be lasting, though seemingly joined—
The hive swarmed at length, and a tribe that was teazed
Set out for Rhode-Island to think as they pleased.

Some hundreds to Britain ran murmuring home—
While others went off in the forests to roam,
When they found they had missed what they looked for at first,
The downfall of sin, and the reign of the just.

Hence, dry controversial reflections were thrown,
And the old dons were vexed in the way they had shown
So those that are held in the work-house all night
Throw dirt the next day at the doors, out of spite.

Ah pity the wretches that lived in those days,
(Ye modern admirers of novels and plays)
When nothing was suffered but musty, dull rules,
And nonsense from Mather and stuff from the schools!

No story, like Rachel's, could tempt them to sigh,
Susanna and Judith employed the bright eye—
No fine spun adventures tormented the breast,
Like our modern Clarissa, Tom Jones, and the rest.

Those tyrants had chosen the books for your shelves,
(And, trust me, no other than writ by themselves,
For always by this may a bigot be known,
He speaks well of nothing but what is his own.)

From indwelling evil these souls to release,
The Quakers arrived with their kingdom of peace—
But some were transported and some bore the lash,
And four they hanged fairly, for preaching up trash.

The lands of New-England (of which we now treat)
Were famous, ere that, for producing of wheat
But the soil (or tradition says strangely amiss)
Has been pestered with pumpkins from that day to this.

Thus, feuds and vexations distracted their reign,
(And perhaps a few vestiges still may remain)
But time has presented an offspring as bold,
Less free to believe, and more wise than the old.

Their phantoms, their wizzards, their witches are fled,
Matthew Paris's story with horror is read—
His daughters, and all the enchantments they bore—
And the demon, that pinched them, is heard of no more.

Their taste for the fine arts is strangely increased,
And Latin's no longer a mark of the beast:
Mathematics, at present, a farmer may know,
Without being hanged for connections below.

Proud, rough, Independent, undaunted and free,
And patient of hardships, their task is the sea,
Their country too barren their wish to attain,
They make up the loss by exploring the main.

Wherever bright Phœbus awakens the gales
I see the bold Yankees expanding their sails,
Throughout the wide ocean pursuing their schemes,
And chacing the whales on its uttermost streams.

No climate, for them, is too cold or too warm,
They reef the broad canvass, and fight with the storm
In war with the foremost their standards display,
Or glut the loud cannon with death, for the fray.

No valour in fable their valour exceeds,
Their spirits are fitted for desperate deeds
No rivals have they in our annals of fame,
Or if they are rivalled, ’tis York has the claim.

Inspired at the sound, while the name she repeats,
Bold Fancy conveys me to Hudson’s retreats—
Ah, sweet recollection of juvenile dreams
In the groves, and the forests that skirted his streams!

How often, with rapture, those streams were surveyed,
When, sick of the city, I flew to the shade—
How often the bard, and the peasant shall mourn
Ere those groves shall revive, or those shades shall return!

Not a hill, but some fortress disfigures it round!
And ramparts are raised where the cottage was found!
The plains and the vallies with ruin are spread,
With graves in abundance, and bones of the dead.

The first that attempted to enter the streight
(In anno one thousand six hundred and eight)
Was Hudson (the same that we mentioned before,
Who was lost in the gulph that he went to explore.)

For a sum that they paid him (we know not how much)
This captain transferred all his right to the Dutch
For the time has been here, (to the world be it known,)
When all a man sailed by, or saw, was his own.

The Dutch on their purchase sat quietly down,
And fixed on an island to lay out a town
They modelled their streets from the horns of a ram,
And the name that best pleased them was, New Amsterdam.

They purchased large tracts from the Indians for beads,
And sadly tormented some runaway Swedes,
Who (none knows for what) from their country had flown,
To live here in peace, undisturbed and alone.

New Belgia, the Dutch called their province, be sure,
But names never yet made possession secure,
For Charley (the second that honoured the name)
Sent over a squadron, asserting his claim:

(Had his sword and his title been equally slender,
In vain had they summoned Mynheer to surrender)
The soil they demanded, or threatened their worst,
Insisting that Cabot had looked at it first.

The want of a squadron to fall on their rear
Made the argument perfectly plain to Mynheer—
Force ended the contest—the right was a sham,
And the Dutch were sent packing to hot Surinam.

’Twas hard to be thus of their labours deprived,
But the age of Republics had not yet arrived—
Fate saw—though no wizzard could tell them as much—
That the crown, in due time, was to fare like the Dutch.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in the Freeman's Journal, December 15, 1784


Freneau, Philip - History

WITH the nerves of a Sampson [1] this son of the sledge,
By the anvil his livelihood got:
With the skill of old Vulcan [2] could temper an edge
And struck--while his iron was hot.[3]

By forging[4] he liv'd, yet never was tried,
Or condemn'd by the laws of the land
But still it is certain, and can't be denied,
He often was burnt in the hand [5].

With the sons of St. Crispin [6]no kindred he claim'd,

With the last he had nothing to do
He handled no awl[7], and yet in his time
Made many an excellent shoe.

He blew up no coals of sedition[8], but still
His bellows was always in blast[9]
And I will acknowledge [deny it who will]
That one Vice[10], and but one, he posssess'd.

No actor was he, or concern'd with the stage,
No audience to awe him appear'd
Yet oft in his shop[like a crowd in a rage]
The voice of a hissing was heard.[11]

Tho' steeling of axes was part of his cares,
In thieving he never was found[12]
And tho' he was constantly beating on bars,
No vessel he e'er ran aground.[13]

Alas and alack! And what more can I say
Of Vulcan's unfortunate son?-
The priest and the sexton[14] have bore him away,
And the sound of his hammer is done!


Read these lines from Philip Freneau's the "Indian Burying Ground" and answer the question. In spite of all the learned have said, I still my old opinion keep: The posture that we give the dead, Points out the soul's eternal sleep. Not so the ancients of these lands- The Indian, when from life released, Again is seated with his friends, And shares again the joyous feast. His imaged birds, and painted bowl, And venison, for a journey dressed, Bespeak the nature of the soul, Activity, that knows no rest. The shift in the poem's rhythm in the last stanza signifies

Explanation: i believe its (b) due to the rhyme scheme. hope this helps!

The "Indian Burying Ground" is a short lyric poem glorifying the spirits of Native Americans consisting of ten quatrains with alternating end rhymes. The excerpt provided here employs the alternate rhyme scheme of ABAB in (said, dead) and (keep, sleep), CDCD in (lands, friends) and (released, feast) and EFEF in (bowl, soul) and (dressed, rest). The poem is written in rhymed couplet comprising of the same length and rhyme that adds a lively effect to the poem.

The structure of the sonnet is actually important. It's made of quartets (in this case 10) which at the same time are made of 4 lines, that have a rhyme pattern. The correct pattern, starting from the end of the first phrase is ABAB, in the first quartet. The firs line ends with "Said" (A) that will then rhyme with "Dead" (A) but in the third line, the same happens with B (Keep/sleep). This same structure can be seen in the second and third quartet, because that's the excerpt in analysis. Nevertheless, there's a change of that structure for the fourth quartet, where the D (Rest/bent) from the third quartet is kept and the author only includes a new ending for the second and fourth lines.


Freneau, Philip - History

Source: Austin, Mary S.: Philip Freneau, the poet of the Revolution : a history of his life and times

Freneau, Philip [Morin] (1752-1832) fulfilled the dream of his wine merchant father, Pierre Fresneau (old spelling) when he entered the Class of 1771 to prepare for the ministry. Well versed in the classics in Monmouth County under the tutelage of William Tennent, Philip entered Princeton as a sophomore in 1768, but the joy of the occasion was marred by his father's financial losses and death the year before. In spite of financial hardships, Philip's Scottish mother believed that her oldest of five children would graduate and join the clergy. Though he was a serious student of theology and a stern moralist all his life, Freneau found his true calling in literature. As his roommate and close friend James Madison recognized early, Freneau's wit and verbal skills would make him a powerful wielder of the pen and a formidable adversary on the battlefields of print. Freneau soon became the unrivaled "poet of the Revolution" and is still widely regarded as the "Father of American Literature."

Although Freneau had produced several accomplished private poems before college, it was the intense experience of pre-Revolutionary-War Princeton that turned the poet's interest to public writing. Political concerns led Madison, Freneau, and their friends Hugh Henry Brackenridge and William Bradford, Jr., to revive the defunct Plain Dealing Club as the American Whig Society. Their verbal skirmishes with the conservative Cliosophic Society provided ample opportunities for sharpening Freneau's skills in prose and poetic satire. Charged with literary and political enthusiasm, Freneau and Brackenridge collaborated on a rollicking, picaresque narrative, Father Bombo's Pilgrimage to Mecca in Arabia, which presents comic glimpses of life in eighteenth-century America. This piece, recently acquired by Princeton and published by the University Library (1975), may well be the first work of prose fiction written in America.

During their senior year Freneau and Brackenridge labored long on another joint project to which Freneau contributed the greater share. Their composition was a patriotic poem of epic design, "The Rising Glory of America," a prophecy of a time when a united nation should rule the vast continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At the commencement exercises of September 1771, Brackenridge read this poem to a "vast concourse of the politest company," gathered at Nassau Hall. The poem articulated the vision and fervor of a young revolutionary generation.

Freneau's life after Princeton was one of change and conflict. He tried teaching and hated it. He spent two more years studying theology, but gave it up. He felt a deep obligation to perform public service, and his satires against the British in 1775 were written out of fervent patriotism. At the same time he distrusted politics and had a personal yearning to escape social turmoil and war. The romantic private poet within him struggled against his public role. Thus, paradoxically, in 1776 the "poet of the revolution" set sail for the West Indies where he spent two years writing of the beauties of nature and learning navigation. Suddenly in 1778, he returned to New Jersey and joined the militia and sailed the Atlantic as a ship captain. After suffering for six weeks on a British prison ship, he poured his bitterness into his political writing and into much of his voluminous poetry of the early 1780s.

By 1790, at the age of thirty-eight, with two collections of poetry in print and a reputation as a fiery propagandist and skillful sea captain, Freneau decided to settle down. He married Eleanor Forman and tried to withdraw to a quiet job as an assistant editor in New York. But politics called again. His friends Madison and Jefferson persuaded him to set up his own newspaper in Philadelphia to counter the powerful Hamiltonian paper of John Fenno. Freneau's National Gazette upheld Jefferson's "Republican" principles and even condemned Washington's foreign policy. Jefferson later praised Freneau for having "saved our Constitution which was galloping fast into monarchy," while Washington grumbled of "that rascal Freneau" -- an epithet that became the title of Lewis Leary's authoritative biography (1949).

After another decade of feverish public action, Freneau withdrew again in 1801, when Jefferson was elected president. He retired to his farm and returned occasionally to the sea. During his last thirty years, he worked on his poems, wrote essays attacking the greed and selfishness of corrupt politicians, and sold pieces of his lands to produce a small income. He discovered that he had given his best years of literary productivity to his country, for it had been in the few stolen moments of the hectic 1780s that he found the inspiration for his best poems, such as "The Indian Burying Ground" and "The Wild Honey Suckle," a beautiful lyric which established him as an important American precursor of the Romantics.

Most students of Freneau's life and writing agree that he could have produced much more poetry of high literary merit had he not expended so much energy and talent for his country's political goals. In a way, though, he had fulfilled his father's hopes for him, for he had devoted his life to public service as a guardian of the morals of his society and as a spokesman for the needs of its people.


Philip Freneau

Philip Freneau: Poet of the American Revolution is a fascinating adventure that leads us through ‘The Rising Glory of America’. Living most of his life in Freehold, New Jersey, Philip Freneau graduates from Princeton with his friend and roommate James Madison, and it was there that Freneau found his voice for poetry. Relevant for our times, this lively and engaging performance reveals the great challenges facing both our Founding fathers and the men and women supporting this new land. Freneau’s great passion and commitment to liberty, takes him on journey from being captured by the British, boldly giving his voice as editor of The National Gazette, and finding his way back to his deep love of nature and poetry.


New Jersey History
Colts Neck Historic Preservation Commission
Princeton Battlefield Society
The New Jersey Society of the Sons of the American Revolution
The Monmouth County Historical Association
The New Jersey State History Fair
The American Revolution Roundtable of New York
The Matawan Historical Society -- Matawan's 325th Anniversary celebration

Watch the 12 minute condensed version of my 40 minute show below. Enjoy!

Joseph Smith as Philip Freneau 2012 New Jersey State History Fair. Photo credit: Jonathan Carlucci


Freneau, Philip - History

Although Freneau had produced several accomplished private poems before college, it was the intense experience of pre-Revolutionary-War Princeton that turned the poet's interest to public writing. Political concerns led Madison, Freneau, and their friends Hugh Henry Brackenridge and William Bradford, Jr., to revive the defunct Plain Dealing Club as the American Whig Society. Their verbal skirmishes with the conservative Cliosophic Society provided ample opportunities for sharpening Freneau's skills in prose and poetic satire. Charged with literary and political enthusiasm, Freneau and Brackenridge collaborated on a rollicking, picaresque narrative, Father Bombo's Pilgrimage to Mecca in Arabia, which presents comic glimpses of life in eighteenth-century America. This piece, recently acquired by Princeton and published by the University Library (1975), may well be the first work of prose fiction written in America.

During their senior year Freneau and Brackenridge labored long on another joint project to which Freneau contributed the greater share. Their composition was a patriotic poem of epic design, ``The Rising Glory of America,'' a prophecy of a time when a united nation should rule the vast continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At the commencement exercises of September 1771, Brackenridge read this poem to a ``vast concourse of the politest company,'' gathered at Nassau Hall. The poem articulated the vision and fervor of a young revolutionary generation.

Freneau's life after Princeton was one of change and conflict. He tried teaching and hated it. He spent two more years studying theology, but gave it up. He felt a deep obligation to perform public service, and his satires against the British in 1775 were written out of fervent patriotism. At the same time he distrusted politics and had a personal yearning to escape social turmoil and war. The romantic private poet within him struggled against his public role. Thus, paradoxically, in 1776 the ``poet of the revolution'' set sail for the West Indies where he spent two years writing of the beauties of nature and learning navigation. Suddenly in 1778, he returned to New Jersey and joined the militia and sailed the Atlantic as a ship captain. After suffering for six weeks on a British prison ship, he poured his bitterness into his political writing and into much of his voluminous poetry of the early 1780s.

By 1790, at the age of thirty-eight, with two collections of poetry in print and a reputation as a fiery propagandist and skillful sea captain, Freneau decided to settle down. He married Eleanor Forman and tried to withdraw to a quiet job as an assistant editor in New York. But politics called again. His friends Madison and Jefferson persuaded him to set up his own newspaper in Philadelphia to counter the powerful Hamiltonian paper of John Fenno. Freneau's National Gazette upheld Jefferson's ``Republican'' principles and even condemned Washington's foreign policy. Jefferson later praised Freneau for having ``saved our Constitution which was galloping fast into monarchy,'' while Washington grumbled of ``that rascal Freneau'' -- an epithet that became the title of Lewis Leary's authoritative biography (1949).

After another decade of feverish public action, Freneau withdrew again in 1801, when Jefferson was elected president. He retired to his farm and returned occasionally to the sea. During his last thirty years, he worked on his poems, wrote essays attacking the greed and selfishness of corrupt politicians, and sold pieces of his lands to produce a small income. He discovered that he had given his best years of literary productivity to his country, for it had been in the few stolen moments of the hectic 1780s that he found the inspiration for his best poems, such as ``The Indian Burying Ground'' and ``The Wild Honey Suckle,'' a beautiful lyric which established him as an important American precursor of the Romantics.

Most students of Freneau's life and writing agree that he could have produced much more poetry of high literary merit had he not expended so much energy and talent for his country's political goals. In a way, though, he had fulfilled his father's hopes for him, for he had devoted his life to public service as a guardian of the morals of his society and as a spokesman for the needs of its people.


Watch the video: Early American Gothic: Philip Freneau, Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe (January 2022).