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Mon, 03.16.1750

Scipio Moorhead, an early Black Artist

Moorhead portrait of Phyllis Wheatley

*The birth of Scipio Moorhead around 1750 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black portrait engraver.

Moorhead was a slave of the Reverend John Moorhead of Boston, Massachusetts. His talents for drawing were tutored by Sarah Moorhead, the wife of the Reverend; who was a teacher of art and drawing.  The recognition of Scipio's work came about through the documented inscription of the Black poet, Phyllis Wheatley.  She left behind a penciled note, "To S.M., a young African painter, on seeing his works," in a copy of her 1773 edition of Poems On Various Subjects, Religious And Moral. Wheatley later wrote, "Scipio Moorhead, Negro servant to the Rev. Moorhead of Boston, whose genius inclined him that way."

Moorhead later engraved a portrait of Phyllis Wheatley which appeared on the cover page of her books of poetry.  That famous scene shows her with a quill pen writing at her desk in colonial American dress. Very little else is known about Scipio Moorhead. His praise and distinction comes from his spirit to create as an early Black visual artist in America without an opportunity for recognition.

Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1999
ISBN 0-465-0071-1

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