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Phillis Wheatley Biography

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The Wheatleys taught Phillis, and she soon mastered Latin and Greek, and started composing poetry. The Wheatleys died in Boston in 1784. A pioneering African American poet, Phillis Wheatley was born in Senegal around 1753. In age 8, poet Phillis was kidnapped and brought to Boston on a slave ship. Upon her coming, John Wheatley bought the young girl as a servant for his wife, Susanna. While Wheatley suffered from poor health, her rapid intellect was difficult to lose, and consequently, Susanna failed to train her to be her servant. Ancient history was shortly closed down to the teachings, as were lessons in mythology and literature. Also, Wheatley, while still a slave, enjoyed restricted constraints on her life and became part of your family.

Wheatley composed her first published poem at age 12. The work, a narrative about two men who almost drown at sea, was printed in the Newport Mercury. Other printed poems followed, with several additionally being released, further raising Wheatley’s popularity.

In 1773, Wheatley developed significant prominence when her first and just publication of poems, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was released. Susanna Wheatley helped fund its publication. As evidence of his wife’s authorship, the volume contained a preface in which 17 Boston men asserted that she had really composed the poems inside. In releasing it, Wheatley became the very first African American and first U.S. slave to release a book of poems, along with the third American woman to do so. Following the publication of PhillisWheatley novel, Wheatley traveled to London to encourage her poems, and received clinical treatment for a health ailment that she was fighting.

After her return to Boston, Wheatley’s life transformed significantly. While finally freed from captivity, Phillis was devastated by the departures of several Wheatley family members, including Susanna (d. 1774) and John (d. 1778). Their union proved to be a battle, using the couple fighting endless poverty. Ultimately, Wheatley was made to find work as a maid in a boarding house.

Wheatley did continue to compose, but the growing tensions together with the British and, finally, the Revolutionary War, weakened excitement for her poems. While poet Phillis contacted various publishers, she was unsuccessful in getting support to get an additional volume of poetry. A solid supporter of America’s fight for autonomy, Wheatley composed several poems in honor of the Continental Army’s commander, George Washington. It is not sure whether Washington ever read John’s work. Picture: Library of Congress

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