Wheatley, Phillis

Wheatley, Phillis (1753 - 1784)


As a child slave, Phillis Wheatley was shipped on the Phillis to Boston from West Africa, possibly the Gambia river region, on July 11, 1761, when she was about 7-8 years of age. Susanna Wheatley, a Christian and wife of merchant John Wheatley, purchased her. Taught by Susanna's daughter Mary, Phillis began writing by 1765. She first published a poem in a newspaper in 1767 at about 14 years old. The second time she sent a volume of poems to a publisher, in 1772, she was personally examined by a printer's 18-man jury to attest that she was their author ... that the poems were "written by PHILLIS, a young Negro Girl, who was but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa, and has ever since been, and now is, under the Disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a Family in this Town" ("To the PUBLICK"). In this year Mary Wheatley's twin brother Nathaniel took Phillis to England in the family-owned ship, London Packet, which arrived June 17. Phillis returned to Boston September 13 to be at the side of dying Susanna Wheatley just after Phillis' book was published, with assistance from the countess of Huntingdon, to whom Phillis dedicated it June 12. By October John Wheatley set Phillis free. On April 1, 1778, she married John Peters and they had three children and settled in Wilmington, Mass. She tried but failed to have a second volume of poems published in 1779. She died December 5, 1784, 31 years old, in poverty, her children predeceasing her. Her funeral was in Boston. The first US publication of her Poems took place in Philadelphia two years later. See also

  • The Poems of Phillis Wheatley. Rev. edn. Ed. Julian D. Mason, Jr. 1966; Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. PS 866 W5A17 1989 Robarts Library. For biographical information, see pp. 2-13.
  • Robinson, William Henry. Phillis Wheatley: a Bio-bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981. Z 8969.285 .R62 Robarts Library.
  • Robinson, William Henry. Phillis Wheatley and her Writings. New York: Garland, 1984. PS 866 .W5Z688 Robarts Library.
  • Shields, John C. "Wheatley, Phillis." American National Biography Online. American Council of Learned Societies: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Wheatley, Phillis. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. London: by A. Bell, for Cox and Berry, Boston, 1773. Facsimile edition in The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley. Ed. John C. Shields. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. PS 866 W5 1988 Robarts Library. For biographical information, see pp. 337-39.
Given Name
Family Name
Birth Date
0, 1753
Death Date
December 5, 1784
Literary Period
Literary Movement
Cause of Death