Phillis Wheatley (May 8, 1753 – December 5, 1784) was a poet. She was the first African-American person to have a book published. She was born in West Africa. It is not known which country she was born in. It was probably Senegal or The Gambia. She was taken to work as a slave in the United States when she was about seven years old on a slave ship called The Phillis. Her master's daughter taught her how to read and write. Wheatley wrote her first published poem when she was 12. She wrote over 100 poems in her life. At least 30 have been lost.
Life[change | change source]
In 1770 Wheatley wrote a poetic tribute to the evangelist George Whitefield. A lot of people said good things about the poem. In 1773 a collection of 39 poems Wheatley had written, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston, in New England, was published. It was the first writings by an African American woman to be published. The book made her famous in England and the American colonies. There was a poem in the book about being brought from Africa to America. Other than this Wheatley did not write much poetry about slavery. Wheatley's mistress Mrs. Wheatley died on October 18, 1773. At this point Wheatley did not have to do household chores anymore. However, it was not until 1778 that she was let free when her master, John Wheatley, died. That year she married John Peters. Peters was a free black grocer. They had two children. Both of them died when they were babies. Her husband was put in prison in 1784 for debt. After this Wheatley became very poor. Wheatley died of illness in 1784 in Boston. She was 31 years old.
Legacy[change | change source]
Vincent Carretta wrote a book about Wheatley's life called Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage. It was published in 2011. In 2012, Robert Morris University named the new building for their School of Communications and Information Sciences after Phillis Wheatley. A statue of Wheatley is part of the Boston Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Ave in Boston.
References[change | change source]
- Doak, Robin S. Phillis Wheatley: Slave and Poet, Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2007
- Women's Political and Social Thought: An Anthology by Hilda L. Smith, Indiana University Press, 2000, page 123.
- Phillis Wheatley: America's second Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers by Henry Louis Gates, Basic Civitas Books, 2003, page 5