- Personal Slave
When she was 7 years old, Phillis Wheatley was brought to Boston, Massachusetts by a slave ship named “The Phillis”. She was bought by Susannah Wheatley, wife of John Wheatley. Her only memory of her birthplace was about her mother pouring water on the ground while the sun was rising. She was born at Senegal/Gambia, Africa.
- Read and Write
The Phillis saw that the African girl has a talent, so she was taught how to read and write by Mary Wheatley, the daughter of his owner. Within just 16 months she was able to fully understand the English Language. And at the age of 12 she was already exposed in Latin and English literature. She can also read difficult verses in the Bible.
- First Published Poem
When Phillis was still a 12-year old girl, she was given a chance to publish a poem. It was a story of two men who nearly drown at the sea and it was published in the Newport Mercury newspaper in 1767. It was the start for her to gain popularity as a poet.
- Book of Poetry
Phillis Wheatley was the first African-American to publish a book of poems. She was also the first American slave and one of three American women to publish a book of poems. Her book was entitled “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” and was published on September 1, 1773. Phillis Wheatley’s book was a great achievement for American history. Susannah Wheatley helped to publish her work, financially. To prove her authorship for this book, attached in one of the pages in her book are testimonials of 18 Boston men including John Wheatley.
- Phillis Wheatley’s Death
Hard life and poverty, these are why Phillis Wheatley had such an early death at the age of 31. She died in Boston, Massachusetts on December 5, 1784. She died with no one taking care of her because her husband was imprisoned for unpaid debts. Their third child followed his mother’s death in time for them to be buried with his mother.
Mrs. Wheatley died in 1774, these prompts Phillis to return to America. She was granted freedom from her slavery after the death of Susannah Wheatley. She was a great supporter for America’s fight for independence.
- Her Own Family
Phillis Wheatley married a free black man, named John Peters, a handsome and educated man. Despite of being educated, he was unable to have a stable job which led to their great poverty. They had three children, but all died in their early months.
- A Poem for Mrs. Wheatley
When she was at the age of 20, she was sent to England for health reasons (suffering from Chronic Asthma) with her young master, Nathaniel Wheatley, who was traveling there for business purposes. Phillis Wheatley also hoped to meet Selina Hasting, the Countess of Huntingdon. She made a poem that shows her affection for the one who adopted her, Mrs. Susannah Wheatley.
Susannah mourns, not can I bear,
To see the crystal shower,
Or mark the tender falling tear,
At sad departure’s hour
- Inspiring Other Poets
Phillis was the inspiration of Jupiter Hammon, Alice Walker, and Naomi Long Madgett. All of them are African-American poets. Each of them made a poem for Phillis Wheatley.
- A Letter for George Washington
When she came back to Boston, she was caught up in the Revolutionary War. Phillis Wheatley wrote an antislavery letter and a poem to the President, George Washington, who later wrote back to her giving his appraisal and thanks for her poetic skills.