Phillis was about seven or eight years old in 1761 when she was purchased by John Wheatley. She was named Phillis after the slave ship that brought her from Africa, and was given the Wheatley surname. Phillis was intended to be a servant for John's wife Susannah, but beginning at a young age, Phillis was tutored by Wheatley's children, Nathaniel and Mary. When she exhibited a literary talent the Wheatley family worked to foster her education by passing domestic duties on to other household slaves, though she was still required to complete light chores. Phillis studied the Bible and subjects like geography and history, but it was her exposure to British literature and classical poets led her to write her own poetry. With the support of the Wheatley family, Phillis became the first African-American female poet to publish a book when Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published in London in 1773 by Archibald Bell. There are 39 poems in this collection, including "To the University of Cambridge in New England" which is thought to be the first poem she wrote.
|PS 866 .W5 1773|
To learn more about Phillis Wheatley, please visit the Poetry Foundation site.
By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager