Sample History Paper on Colonial Images of African Americans

Colonial Images of African Americans

  1. How has Scipio Moorhead chosen to depict Phillis Wheatley? Write a paragraph explaining what you notice about the picture.

The portrait shows a black woman, Phillis Wheatley, sitting at a desk with a thoughtful look on her face. From the painting, Phillis has her left hand poised against her chin like she is in deep thought, probably thinking about what she will write considering her right hand sits on a piece of paper. Wheatley dress code is made of a bonnet and an apron over her dress, which at the time were attires, associated with house helpers (Doak, 24). It can be stated that in the portrait Scipio Moorhead chooses to show Wheatley as an intellectual despite dampening on her elegance as compared to the Portrait of Dorothy Quincy, by John Singleton Copley. These two pieces are almost identical with both women gazing at the emptiness of the room; their body languages are also almost the same except the choice of cloths used as Quincy’s is much more elegant while. Wheatley’s is much more intellectual (Rosenthal and Agnes 89). During the times of slavery, women were not allowed many privileges and for an African American woman to have portrait such as that depicted by Moorhead there was a clear message to be adopted by the audience. An African American with the ability to read and write was a significant issue thing because there were still slaves, particularly in the south.


Phillis Wheatley tried to publish her book in the United States; however, due to racism issues, she failed to do so. A book by an African American was considered an insult to the white community because most master refused their slaves to have any form of education. With that in mind, a book from an African American woman should be an absolute abomination. Despite the adversities, she later found a publisher in London who would get her manuscript to the public but under the condition that she needed to verify she was African American. London as a metropolis was known to be much friendlier to minority races particularly educated ones a character that played in favor of Phillis Wheatley. The portrait by Moorhead was used for this purpose and in the processes ended up being famous after being published in 1778, just as the book was. As indicated by Patton during the time Wheatley’s portrait was made most of such paintings about black women would show them working in their master’s houses particularly because they were done by white artists (44).

  1. How are the two Children Shown in the Portrait of Charles Convert? What choice has the artist made (color, Light, comparison)?

John Hesselius’s 1761 portrait of Charles Calvert and His Slave depicts Charles Calvert, a third generation baron of Baltimore, at a young age about five standing beside a boy kneeling at his right. The other young child (African American) is later revealed as his slave. In the trait, the African American boy is kneeling with what appears to be a drum looking up to young Calvert. Both young boys are well dressed; however, Calvert was outfitted in what seems to be a silk pink holding a blue scarf as a sign of royalty. While the majority of slave children were allowed to grow up within the context of field quarters, a handful were raised in or around the house of their white owners (Dew, 272; Bennett, 492). These children had a change of names as well as some form of education to communicate with their masters. The African American boy seems to be raised close to his masters; however, unlike Calvert he is outfitted in a dull yellow clothing showing his lower class. Calvert, is holding the drumstick and this can be perceived that the slave boy is only used as a carrier while he is the player. The artist shows a wide range of choice of color when selecting children’s clothes. He selects bright vibrant colors for Calvert while he selects gloomy colors for the slave child. He also uses significant lighting for Calvert as compared to the slave child. In comparison, Calvert is a much superior personality who stands tall over his oppressed slave child.

  1. Compare and contrast the two pictures. How do they differ in the representation of the African American community?

It has been over two centuries since the two pieces were developed and the racial segregation profile has changed drastically in the process particularly in art. Scipio Moorhead an African American artist did Phillis Wheatley’s portrait. In his depiction was fair, as he did not base his piece on only showing Wheatley’s intellect but the surrounding. As aforementioned, in 1773 when the image was published women played a minor role in the society and when the race got involved black women were known as house aids. The artist shows this through Wheatley’s attire but shows her sophistication with a book by her side as well as her writing actions. On the other hand, Hesselius’s depiction shows how the black race is inferior as compared to their masters (then). The African American boy is on his knees looking up to a majestic Calvert. The two portraits are the complete contrast of each other.



Works Cited

Bennett, Maurice J. “A Portrait of the Artist in Eighteenth-Century America: Charles Brockden Brown’s” Memoirs of Stephen Calvert”.” The William and Mary Quarterly: A Magazine of Early American History and Culture (1982): 492-507.

Dew, Charles B. “Slavery and the Southern Economy: Sources and Readings.” Civil War History 13.3 (1967): 270-272.

Doak, Robin Santos. Phillis Wheatley: Slave and Poet. Capstone, 2006.

Patton, Sharon F. African-American Art. Oxford University Press, USA, 1998.

Rosenthal, Angela, and Agnes I. Lugo-Ortiz, eds. Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World. Cambridge University Press, 2013. P