About Phyllis Wheatley
Phillis Wheatley was the first US slave to publish a book of poems. Born in Africa in about 1753 and shipped as an 8 year old child to the Boston Slave Market, she was purchased by John Wheatley to be a personal servant for his wife, Susanna.
Phillis (who took her master’s name, as was then customary) showed early signs of remarkable intelligence; she was encouraged by Susanna and her two daughters to learn to read and to study Theology, English, Latin, Greek and Ancient History. She wrote her first published poem at the age of 13.
In 1773 she published her first and only book of verse, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral . As proof of her authorship, several Boston men, including John Hancock, one of the Founding Fathers, contributed to a Preface affirming that:
… these poems were written by Phillis, a young negro girl, who was but a few years since brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa, and has ever since been, and now is, under the disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a family in this town.
Finally freed from slavery, her freedom was marred by the deaths of John and Susanna Wheatley. In 1778 she married a free African American, John Peters, with whom she had three children, all of whom died in infancy. After a struggle with ill health and poverty, she died in 1784, in her early thirties.