Phillis Wheatley Biography

Phillis Wheatley Biography

Phillis Wheatley was an icon in the history of African-American poets. Purchased as a slave, Wheatley strongly was a deviation from the normal thinking that even Blacks could be artistic and intelligent. Her poems won her acclaim in the world of literate colonists.

Born: May 8, 1753, West Africa
Died: December 5, 1784, Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Biography :

  • Born as an African-American, Phillis Wheatley was purchased as a slave by the Wheatley family when she was only seven years old.
  • The Wheatley family was however very supportive and taught Phillis Wheatley how to read and write.
  • The Wheatley family also extended their full support once Phillis began to write her own poems.
  • Phillis Wheatley accompanied her master’s son, Nathaniel Wheatley to London where she had the opportunity to meet the Lord Mayor.
  • It was during Phillis’ visit to London that her collection of poetry was published.
  • Very soon after the publication of her poems and the death of her master, Phillis Wheatley was freed from slavery.
  • Phillis Wheatley married a free black grocer, John Peters. However, her marriage was not successful as her husband was imprisoned and Phillis Wheatley died penniless.

Career :

  • When George III repealed the Stamp Act, Phillis Wheatley praised him in her poem, “To the King’s Most Excellent Majesty”.
  • Phillis Wheatley was widely recognized when she paid her tribute to George Whitefield in her poem.
  • Phillis Wheatley was first noticed in the intellectual crowd with her “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral”. This book had to be published in London as publishers in Boston refused to do so.
  • Phillis Wheatley also wrote a poem dedicated to George Washington. As a result Phillis Wheatley was invited to George Washington’s house and her poem was republished in the “Pennsylvania Gazette by Thomas Jefferson.
  • Phillis Wheatley mostly wrote about eminent persons of the society and on religious themes.
  • Being a victim of slavery, Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” in which she strongly condemns slavery.
  • At a time when the African Americans were treated as slaves, Phillis Wheatley’s writing skills were doubted by the Americans. So, she had to prove her writing abilities in a court and finally it was testified that the poems had actually been written by her.

Achievements :

  • Phillis Wheatley is said to be the creator of the African American literature.
  • Phillis Wheatley was the first African American woman who published a book.
  • At the University of Massachusetts Boston, a building has been named after Phillis Wheatley.
  • Phillis Wheatley has been listed as one of the hundred greatest African Americans by Molefi Kete Asante.

Quotes :

“Through thickest gloom look back, immortal shade, On that confusion which thy death has made.”

― Phillis Wheatley

Famous People Article Archive