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Phillis Wheatley Biography | Poet

Photo of Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley lived between 1753 to December 5, 1784. She made a name as the first ever-published African American poet as well as the first African American female writer to be published in the United States. She was sold into slavery from her native country Senegal in West Africa to North America. The Wheatley family, who purchased her as a slave, educated her. The family decided to educate her after observing her brilliancy. She was given every type of support she needed by the Wheatley family who also adopted her as their daughter. She made good use of the opportunity to demonstrate her superior writing skills.

She was brought to the United States as a slave at the age of eight, and was named Phillis after the ship that brought her to the country. Mary, the first Wheatley daughter, educated her on how to read and write. Nathaniel another member of the family also helped her in her educational pursuit. She was given enough education at that time, more than what other slaves gained. She was able to read, write, and speak. Works of such people like Virgil, Horace, Hommer, John Milton, as well as Pope Alexander influenced her. Because of the education and support by the Wheatley family, she was able to master Latin as well as Greek languages. She started to write poems and was so intelligent that her first work was published when she was just twelve years. She wrote several poems, which were published in different journals then. Her later works, covering various subjects such as religion and morals, gained notoriety and were published in the year 1793.

She was legally freed from slavery through her masters will and subsequently got married to John Peters, another freed slave of that era, turned grocer. Phillis and John struggled with poverty and the death of their two babies. John was imprisoned for debt in the year 1784 and Phillis was forced into menial labor to sustain herself and her infant son. She died in December 5 1784.

Her published work

As said, she published her first work at the age of 12. The work was about two men who nearly ended in the sea as they were about to be drowned. The work was found in the Newport Mercury. She soon followed with other great works. These works increased her popularity.

Her most important work, which was published in 1773, was the booktitled Poems on Various Subjects. Her mistress Susanna Wheatley financed the book. In part, this book was significant because 17 Boston men had to endorse the work before it was actually published by the author. This work was relevant in several ways. First was that it was a landmark presentation by an African-American woman. Also, it was interesting to see the American story told by a slave woman.  She became the first African to publish, as well as the third woman in the country ever to publish.

Phillis Wheatley: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes