Phillis Wheatley first set foot in United Sates of America in 1761 when the slave ship she aboard arrived in Boston. Wheatley, born in West Africa on May 8, 1753, accomplished things that were beyond comprehension at the time considering she was a slave. She was the first African American to publish a book of poems.
Her life never began smooth as one may imagine. Upon coming to United States as a slave, she was bought by John Wheatley to serve his wife. One day, Phillis was caught writing on the wall using chalk. Instead of John Wheatley punishing her, he saw an opportunity to teach her. From that point on, things picked up for Phillis. Since she was of poor health, John Wheatley never trained her to be a domestic worker. Rather, the Wheatley family encouraged Phillis to study English, Latin, Greek classics and theology. John Wheatley’s daughter was the one responsible for tutoring Phillis in reading and writing.
She learned how to read and write English quickly and developed a habit of reading the Bible. Her eloquence astonished for a slave girl at a tender age. As she was approaching her thirteenth birthday, Phillis Wheatley had known how to write and model poems. She sought inspiration from great poets at the time like John Milton, Thomas Gray, and Alexander Pope.
Her first poem publication was in 1767. More than half a decade later in 1773, she together with the Wheatley family sailed to London. On that same year, John Wheatley liberated her and she went on to publish a book of poems named Poems on Various Subjects and Morals.
Wheatley became renowned and she met the notable social and political figures. One of those was George Washington to whom she wrote a poem of praise. A few years after she got liberated, she married John Peters, a free black gentleman. John Peters’ business dealing were less capable businesswise and Phillis Wheatley became a servant later in her life. During her marriage to John Peters, she published more poems.
- First African-American and third woman to publish a book of poems.
- She paved the way for African-American literacy tradition.
- She used neo-classicism aspects and religions in her poems.
Although Wheatley was a renowned poet, sadly enough she died a poor but free woman. Her works were preserved and read today by aspiring poets and poem enthusiasts.
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