Let's Talk About Phillis Wheatley

Updated: Feb 6

Hello to all new members of Library Bar!

This is a month we celebrate African American History within the United States of America and I would like to start off highlighting someone who played a great part in African American history. Ms. Phillis Wheatley ladies and gentlemen.

Phillis Wheatley

Born 1753 in Senegal, West Africa and died December 5, 1784 in Boston Massachusetts , she was the first black woman poet of note in the United States.

Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped from Senegal, West Africa and taken to Boston on a slave ship in 1761 and purchased by a tailor, John Wheatley, as a personal servant for his wife. After being kidnapped and taken north, the Wheatley family treated Phillis fairly better than most slaves that were captured. One of the reasons why they took her in kindly was due to her ability to pick up on reading and writing quickly, so they gave her access to many books and literature. In a two year span, Phillis had mastered English, Greek and Latin and also caused local scholars in Boston to question how she knew so much. Beginning in her early teens she wrote exceptionally mature, being mostly influenced by Neoclassical poets such as Alexander Pope and was largely concerned with morality, piety, and freedom.

Wheatley’s first poem to appear in print was “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin” (1767), but she did not gain slight stardom until the publication of “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine…George Whitefield” (1770). The piece is typical of Wheatley’s poetic flow both in its formal reliance on couplets and in its genre; most of her work that she published was a node to prominent figures or friends. A majority of her poems highlight the potential advancement of African Americans in United States of America, whose struggle for independence was sometimes employed as a metaphor for spiritual freedom; which was really racial freedom.

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