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Phillis Wheatley Biography & Poetry

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley was born around 1753 in Gambia, Africa. She was caught by slave traders and sold to John Wheatley, a tailor from Boston, on July 11, 1761. Her name was chosen by the owners and named after the ship which carried her to America, The Phillis. She was taught to read by one of Wheatley's daughters, Mary, and studied English, Latin and Greek before beginning to write poetry in 1767. Her first poem, On the Death of George Whitefield, was published in 1770.

Wheatley traveled to London, England, when she was eighteen. While there, the Countess of Huntingdon,Selina Hastings, helped her publish her first collection of work called Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773.

Obour Tanner, a former slave who road to America on the same boat as Wheatley, greatly influenced her craft. She wrote elegiac poetry, perhaps taught to her by the women of her African tribe.

After the death of her owner and his wife (and popularity of her poetry both in USA and abroad), Phillis was freed and married John Peters, a free black man who ran a small grocery store in Boston. Soon, the business failed and forced Phillis to find work as a servant.

Phillis Wheatley died on December 5, 1784 while still struggling with poverty.

Phillis Wheatley was also a great supporter of the revolution. She appeared infront of George Washington in March, 1776 for her backing of independence.

Wheatley also felt slavery was what seperated whites from true heroism stating, "they disgrace/And hold in bondage Afric's blameless race."

Poems by Phillis Wheatley


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