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Phillis Wheatley - Pioneering African American Poet and Author

Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2020

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Portrait of Phillis Wheatley that appeared in her published work "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral"

Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa in 1753 and was sold into slavery as a child, arriving in Boston in 1761. Wheatley was quick to learn how to read and write English upon her arrival in America and became interested in poetry. 

Wheatley became the first African American poet to have her work published in English in 1773 with "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral." Wheatley's work brought her renown in England and the American Colonies. Wheatley was inspired during the American Revolution to write a poem and send it George Washington. Washington responded by praising Wheatley for her "poetical talents" and "genius."

Wheatley was granted her freedom shortly after the publication of her poetry collection, but because it was published while she was enslaved, she never received any compensation for her work. Wheatley married a free African American named John Peters but the couple struggled to make ends meet. Peters was imprisoned in debtors' prison and Wheatley and her infant son perished after falling ill in 1784. Wheatley was just 31 years old.

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