Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)
Categories : American Literature

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was an African-born American poet who became one of the most prominent literary figures of her time. Her life and works are remarkable because she achieved literary recognition and success during a period when African Americans, especially women, were enslaved and denied access to education.

Phillis Wheatley was born in Senegal, West Africa, around 1753. She was kidnapped as a young girl, transported to America, and sold into slavery to the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1761. The Wheatleys recognized her intellect and potential, and they provided her with an education, which was highly unusual for enslaved individuals at the time.

Phillis Wheatley quickly learned to read and write English, as well as Latin and Greek. She demonstrated exceptional talent in poetry and began composing verse at a young age. Her early works were influenced by classical literature, and she often wrote poems on moral and religious themes.

In 1770, when she was only 17 years old, Wheatley’s first published poem, “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” appeared in the Newport Mercury newspaper. This marked the beginning of her literary career. In 1773, her first book, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” was published in London, making her the first African American and the first enslaved person to publish a book in the English language.

The publication of her book brought Wheatley international acclaim. She traveled to England in 1773 to promote her work and met prominent figures such as the Earl of Dartmouth and Benjamin Franklin. Her poetry was praised for its elegance, religious fervor, and advocacy for freedom and justice. Some of her famous works include “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” “To the University of Cambridge, in New England,” and “To His Excellency General Washington.”

Despite her success as a poet, Wheatley continued to live in slavery, even after her book’s publication. She was eventually emancipated in 1778, after the death of her enslaver, Nathaniel Wheatley. However, she faced financial difficulties and struggled to support herself.

Phillis Wheatley’s life was tragically cut short at the age of 31. She died in Boston on December 5, 1784, likely due to complications from childbirth. Despite her short life, she left a significant legacy as a pioneer in African American literature and an inspiration to future generations of writers. Her works continue to be celebrated for their artistic merit and their contribution to the abolitionist movement.

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