Phillis Wheatley

phillis wheatley.png

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

Phyllis Wheatley was the first African American poet to be published in the United States. She took her first name from the ship that carried her from Senegal to Boston when she was seven, and her last name from the family that purchased her for servitude. With the encouragement of the Wheatley family, the talented youth learned to read and write at age seven, and soon began to study Greek and Latin classics alongside the Bible. While Wheatley’s first poem appeared in print in 1770 when she was only 17, Boston publishers refused to print her book of poetry. A London firm finally released her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773.


Poems on Various Subjects, Religous and Moral (London: 1773)

This volume, the first edition of Wheatley’s published poems, is open to the letter written by her master John Wheatley, providing her publisher, A. Bell, with Wheatley’s background. On the opposite page is a statement of authentication of Wheatley’s poems by the leading men of Boston.


Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley (Boston: 1835)

This is the first book of Wheatley’s writings published in Boston.


A.L.S. to the Rev. Samuel Hopkins (Boston: May 6, 1774)

In this remarkable letter, Wheatley acts as her own business agent and informs Rev. Hopkins that she has received the money for her books and expresses her desire to sell more:

I have received in the last shipment from London 300 more copies of my Poems, and wish to dispose of them as soon as possible. If you know of any being wanted I flatter myself you will be pleas’d to let me know it…

Public Women, Private Lives
Phillis Wheatley