“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)
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.
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.