Despite spending much of her life enslaved, Phillis Wheatley was the first African American and second woman (after Anne Bradstreet) to publish a book of poems.
Born around 1753 in Gambia, Africa, Wheatley was captured by slave traders and brought to America in 1761. Upon arrival, she was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts. Her first name Phillis was derived from the ship that brought her to America, “the Phillis.”
The Wheatley family educated her and within sixteen months of her arrival in America she could read the Bible, Greek and Latin classics, and British literature. She also studied astronomy and geography. At age fourteen, Wheatley began to write poetry, publishing her first poem in 1767. Publication of “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield” in 1770 brought her great notoriety. In 1773, with financial support from the English Countess of Huntingdon, Wheatley traveled to London with the Wheatley’s son to publish her first collection of poems, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral—the first book written by a black woman in America.
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Now for this week’s poetry corner–the late, great Phillis Wheatley. The title of her work–
O thou bright jewels in my own I strive
To comprehend thee. Thine own words
Wisdom is higher than a fool can
I cease to wonder, and no more
Thine height t’explore, or fathom thy
A Farewell to America
Adieu, New-England’s smiling meads
Adieu, th’ flow’ ry plain:
I leave thine op’ning chains, O spring
And tempt the roaring main
Click on Crash Course video below for a quick yet informative overall of Ms. Wheatley’s life.