African American Literature
Professor: W.S. Lewis
Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784)
Phillis Wheatly, is remembered as the first issued African American poet. She was born in Senegal in 1753, and at age eight was kidnapped and brought to Boston by slave traders. In Boston, she was sold to John and Susannah Wheatley. Educated and taught by Susannah Wheatley, Phillis Wheatley published her first poem in 1770, at age 17. Wheatley went on to publish many poems, generally dealing with religion, a popular theme of that day. She published many of them. In 16 months Phillis could read difficult passages in the Bible. At 12 she began studying Latin and English literature, especially the poetry of Alexander Pope, soon translating Ovid into heroic rhymes. These would have been amazing accomplishments for an educated white male boy, and were nearly unheard of for white females. “She may well have read Anne Bradstreet's poetry”. The Wheatleys appreciated her talents, and showed her off to their friends. Many came to visit with this "lively and brilliant conversationalist." She was thoroughly taught into the Calvinist theology of Congregationalism. Poetry in London, and became widely known. In 1771 she was released from slavery. By the time she was eighteen, Phillis had gathered a collection of twenty eight poems for which she, with the help of Mrs. Wheatley, ran advertisements for subscribers in Boston newspapers in February 1772. When the colonists were apparently unwilling to support literature by an African, she and the Wheatleys turned in frustration to London for a publisher. Phillis had forwarded the Whitefield poem to Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, to whom Whitefield had been chaplain. A wealthy supporter of evangelical and abolitionist causes, the countess instructed bookseller Archibald Bell to begin supporting Phillis in preparation for the book. As a result of her early capture and experience as a slave, Wheatley was sick for much...
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