Authors: Philip Freneau

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works


“The Rising Glory of America,” 1772 (with H. H. Brackenridge)

The American Village, 1772

“The British Prison-Ship,” 1781

The Poems of Philip Freneau: Written Chiefly During the Late War, 1786

A Journey from Philadelphia to New-York, by Robert Slender, Stocking Weaver, 1787

Poems Written Between the Years 1786 and 1794, 1795

Poems Written and Published During the American Revolutionary War, 1809

A Collection of Poems . . . Written Between the Year 1797 and the Present Time, 1815

The Poems of Philip Freneau, 1902-1907 (3 volumes; F. L. Patee, editor)

Poems of Freneau, 1929 (H. H. Clark, editor)

The Last Poems of Philip Freneau, 1945 (Lewis Leary, editor)

Long Fiction:

Father Bombo’s Pilgrimage to Mecca, 1770


Letters on Various Interesting and Important Subjects, 1799 (republished in 1943, by H. H. Clark)


The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. Philip Freneau Containing His Essays and Additional Poems, 1788

The Prose of Philip Freneau, 1955 (Philip M. Marsh, editor)


Philip Morin Freneau (frih-NOH) was the first noteworthy American poet, both as the partisan versifier of colonial independence and as a romantic poet of the American scene. His political poems during the American Revolution, especially “The British Prison Ship,” established him as a powerful satirist, whereas his poem “The House of Night,” with its atmospheric descriptions, its whippoorwills and jack-o’-lanterns, proved his originality as the first poet to use themes from American nature. Freneau’s poems, first printed in the United States Magazine and the Freeman’s Journal, of which he was editor (1781-1784), came out in several collected editions, the most important of which were those of 1786, 1795, and 1815. The subjects of his poetry include politics, war (the American Revolution and the War of 1812), travel, philosophy, and everyday life.{$I[AN]9810000611}{$I[A]Freneau, Philip}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Freneau, Philip}{$I[tim]1752;Freneau, Philip}

Philip Freneau

(Library of Congress)

Freneau was the eldest of five children. His Huguenot father was a wine merchant in New York. Little is known about Freneau’s early life, other than that he was probably educated at home before being sent to a boarding school in New York. At the age of fifteen he began preparing for college at the Penolopen, New Jersey, Latin School. In the fall of 1768 he entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) as a sophomore. At college he wrote numerous poems and satirical pieces and was involved in several literary activities, including the “Whig Society” (not affiliated with the political Whigs) with Hugh Henry Brackenridge, James Madison, and William Bradford.

Freneau left college in 1771 after writing his first patriotic poem, “The Rising Glory of America,” with Brackenridge. He began his career as political pamphleteer in 1775 by attacking English generals and Tories with revolutionary fervor. Early in 1776 he sailed for the West Indies and spent two years at Santa Cruz. In 1778 he returned home and joined the New Jersey militia. In 1779 he contributed to Brackenridge’s United States Magazine. His 1780 imprisonment on a prison ship in New York harbor became the subject of the poem “The British Prison Ship.” He began writing occasional poems on war events for the Philadelphia Freemen’s Journal in 1781 and published The Poems of Philip Freneau: Written Chiefly During the Late War in 1786. From then until 1790 he spent much of his time at sea, sometimes as master of a freight sloop. Some of his best lyrics were written during these years, among them “The Jamaica Funeral” and “Santa Cruz.”

In 1790 Freneau was married and became editor of the New York Daily Advertiser. In 1792, influenced by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, he established the National Gazette in Philadelphia, which ran from October 31, 1791, to October 23, 1793, and campaigned vigorously against the Federalists. In the pages of this paper Freneau became known as a critic of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and John Adams and as a fervent exponent of Jeffersonian Republicanism. Although his political works were condemned by George Washington and John Adams, he was admired by James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe. After his political opponents besmirched his reputation, he retired to Mount Pleasant, his home near Freehold, New Jersey, in 1794, and eventually necessity forced him to return to the sea as captain of coastwise trading vessels. After his house burned down in 1815 he earned his living as an itinerant tinker and clock mender. Caught in a blizzard, he froze to death near Freehold, New Jersey, on December 18, 1832. Later research absolved Freneau of much of the political calumny heaped upon him by his enemies during his lifetime.

BibliographyAndrews, William D. “Philip Freneau and Francis Hopkinson.” In American Literature, 1764-1789: The Revolutionary Years, edited by Everett Emerson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977. The writings of Freneau and Hopkinson are examined as expressions of the political events of the time, particularly the war for independence. Freneau’s bitter invective is contrasted with Hopkinson’s witty urbanity, and Freneau’s dedication to poetry as art is contrasted with Hopkinson’s view of poetry as a hobby. Includes suggested readings and index.Elliott, Emory. “Philip Freneau: Poetry of Social Commitment.” In Revolutionary Writers: Literature and Authority in The New Republic, 1725-1810. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Examines Freneau as a poet-teacher of morality. His changing directions are understood as moves to strengthen power of instruction through poetic forms. Several poems are analyzed to illustrate Freneau’s faith in poetry as social commitment. Includes notes, select bibliography, and index.Leary, Lewis. “Philip Freneau.” In Major Writers of Early American Literature, edited by Everett Emerson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972. Asserts that from early political verse to flights of fancy, Freneau was caught between destructive forces. After the Revolutionary War, his talents were released for light verse and humorous satire. As he grew older, his poems grew bitter and disillusioned. Although not a great poet, he had talent. Includes bibliography and index.McWilliams, John P., Jr. The American Epic: Transforming a Genre, 1770-1860. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. This book uses Freneau’s reaction to Timothy Dwight’s The Conquest of Canaan to show contemporary criticism of attempts to write the American epic. Although Freneau did not himself attempt an epic poem, his influence on others to make the attempt was considerable. Includes notes and an index.Pearce, Roy Harvey. “Antecedents: The Case of Freneau.” In The Continuity of American Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961. This brief assessment of Freneau, who hoped to make poetry from democratic dogma, deplores his turn from positive exposition to verse as a weapon of invective, attacking opponents of democracy. He lost his audience after the American Revolution, and his poetry found no place in the hearts of his fellow Americans.Ronnick, Michele Valerie. “A Note on the Text of Philip Freneau’s ‘Columbus to Ferdinand’: From Plato to Seneca.” Early American Literature 29, no. 1 (1994): 81. A discussion of Freneau’s “Columbus to Ferdinand” as it was first published in United States Magazine with two lines that were left out of all subsequent editions.Tichi, Cecelia. New World, New Earth: Environmental Reform in American Literature from the Puritans Through Whitman. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. Arguing that early American writers were keenly conscious of environmental concerns, Tichi draws on the work of many great authors, including Freneau, whom Tichi presents as one who used his poetry to approach problems of comprehending environmental reform with visionary ideals, mundane with sublime experience. Contains notes and an index.Wertheimer, Eric. “Commencement Ceremonies: History and Identity in ‘The Rising Glory of America,’ 1771 and 1786.” Early American Literature 29, no. 1 (1994): 35. An examination of the thematic obsession with imperial beginnings in the poem “The Rising Glory of America” by Freneau and Henry Brackenridge.
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