Philip Freneau - The Father of American Poetry

Philip Freneau - The Father of American Poetry

Philip Freneau was one of the premier authors of the American Founding Period.

Freneau became a polarizing figure during George Washington’s Presidency as he published Anti-Administration propaganda.

Growing tired of politics, Freneau turned to poetry. He became one of the first successful American prose authors.

Philip Freneau

Philip Freneau of New Jersey received his education at Princeton University where he began a lifelong friendship with James Madison.

By the time of his graduation, Freneau had already published several poems and was on his way to becoming the Father of American Poetry.

Despite writing some anti-British publications, Philip decided to travel to the West Indies for a year where he wrote about the natural beauty he found.

Revolutionary

Choosing to participate in the American Revolutionary War, Freneau became captain of a privateer ship.  The goal was to raid British ships to prevent them from attacking the Continent and make a profit off the cargo.

Unfortunately, Freneau himself was captured and kept on a prison ship for six months. Philip’s treatment was poor and he almost died.

Luckily, Freneau was freed and he wrote even more inflamatory articles regarding the Redcoats’ behavior.

The National Gazette

After briefly working as a schoolteacher, Philip dedicated himself to writing full time.

Freneau became an author and edited a newspaper in New York City.  At the start of the George Washington Administration, Philip was convinced by his old friend Madison to work for Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson, as Secretary of State, appointed Freneau as official Language Interpreter for the State Department (which was strange, as Freneau only spoke French).  The pay for this job was middling, but there really wasn’t much that needed to get done. This left Philip with a great deal of free time.

In exchange for this position, Freneau agreed to relocate to Philadelphia and work for the National Gazette.  This newspaper was extremely partisan and attacked Alexander Hamilton, Washington and the rest of the Administration. To be fair, this was in response to Hamilton’s publications in the Gazette of the United States.

While Hamilton would attack Jefferson himself (under a pen name), Jefferson would have Freneau critique Hamilton on his behalf.  Jefferson could be ‘above’ this type of politics while still controlling attacks on the government he was a part of.


The Father of American Poetry

By the end of the Washington Administration, Freneau had enough of politics.  Philip retired to his farm where he focused on writing prose.

Although there were many notable (often female) poets in colonial and early America, Freneau was really the first ‘professional’ poetic author.  His publications earned him enough salary to retire on, a notable feat in those days.

Philip spent the next thirty years experimenting in several different styles of poetry.  

In attrition to natural works, Freneau spent time writing romantic, Gothic and primitive poems.
Philip Freneau’s work in developing the American Poem served as an inspiration for the upcoming wave of creative writing in the United States.  Among the many authors his legacy affected were James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman.

If you’re interested in reading some of Freneau’s poems, you can do so for FREE here or here or from the list found here.

To learn more about Freneau, check out ‘The Huguenot Patriot-Poet.’ This book was written in 1891, so it has some old timey language but it is the best account of Freneau’s life I have read. It is hard to find but if you pick it up from our affiliate link below, we will get a small cut which keeps this site online.

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