#BlackHistory: Phillis Wheatley The First African American published poet

By Duchess Magazine

Phillis Wheatley the first African-American poet to publish a book was born in 1753.
Brought to New England from West Africa, enslaved in 1761 and sold to John Wheatley, the family caught on her passion for writing, a passion that would set her apart for life. The Wheatleys tutored her in reading and writing at the age of nine.

She studied English literature, Latin, Greek and The Bible. At age 13, Phyllis began writing poetry, modeling her work on the English poets of the time, particularly John Milton, Thomas Gray, and Alexander Pope.

With strong support from the family Phillis Wheatley traveled to London in 1773, thus her her first poems was published. Her poem “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield” was published as a broadside in cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and garnered Wheatley national and international acclaim.
Upon her return to America, she was granted her freedom; scholars suggest between 1774 and 1778.

Phillis Wheatley died alone in a boarding house on December 5, 1784, aged 31.


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