Phillis Wheatley accomplished much in a short life

Born in 1753 in an area of present day Senegal, Africa, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped and brought to America in 1761. The slave ship called Phillis is where her first named was derived. Phillis was purchased in Boston by a wealthy merchant named John Wheatley.John and his wife Susanna accepted her into their family along with their other two children, and encouraged her education. She was tutored by the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, in English, Latin, Greek, history, geography, and the Bible. She was baptized in the Christian religion at Old South Meeting House Church.

Phillis popularity as a poet both in the United States and England ultimately brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773. She appeared before General Washington in March 1776 at a poetry reading. Phillis Wheatley was a strong supporter of independence, and reflected it in both her poems and plays written by her during the Revolutionary War.

In 1770 Wheatley wrote a poetic tribute to George Washington that received widespread acclaim. She rarely mentioned her situations in her work. Instead she involved mostly Christianity, elegies, classical, and abstract themes. But in one of her few did poems she did summarize her situation, On Being Brought From Africa to America.

When people at the time found it hard to believe that a Black woman could be so intelligent in writing poems, Phillis had to defend her literary ability in court in 1772. With the 1774 publication of Wheatley’s book, Poems of Various Subjects, she became the most famous African on the face of the earth. She was also honored by many of the America ‘s founding fathers, including George Washington.

In court, they concluded that she ascribed to her and signed an attestation which was published in Aldgate, London in 1773. The book was published in London because publishers in Boston had refused to publish the text.

Phillis and her master’s son, Nathaniel Wheatley, went to London, where Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, and the Earl of Dartmouth helped with the publication.

Phillis Wheatley married a free Black grocer named John Peters. This marriage produced three children, two of whom soon died. Her husband eventually left her and she earned a living as not only a poet, but as a seamstress as well.

By 1784, Wheatley was living in a boarding house. In December of that year, she died, and with only a few hours her remaining child died too. They were both buried in an unmarked grave. Phillis Wheatley passed at the young age of 31, with a second volume of poetry waiting to be published. But as her earlier creation, no publishers were willing to publish her work.

Phillis Wheatley’s book is today seen as helping create the genre of African American literature. There is a building named in her honor at the University of Boston.