A Story of Success: Phillis Wheatley, the First African American Poet

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Could you imagine what it would be like to be taken from your home at a young age and forced to move to a new country to work for and live with strangers? Phillis Wheatley was put in that exact situation. However, instead of letting a rough life get her down, she began to find her own style in writing poems including “On Virtue” and “Being Brought from Africa to America”.

Phillis Wheatley made it through what would have been a very tough life by making the most of every situation. Phillis was born in Gambia, Africa in 1753, but was brought to America as a slave at about age seven. In America, she was bought by John Wheatley in Boston, Massachusetts as a present for his wife, Susanna Wheatley. The Wheatley’s, John and Susanna Wheatley along with their children Mary and Nathaniel Wheatley, all helped to educate Phillis, and by age nine, she learned English. Phillis also learned Greek and Latin, and studied the Bible and many other classical writings. At age thirteen, Phillis began writing poems and had her first poem published, “On Messrs Hussey and Coffin”. However, Phillis’s first well known poem was “On the Death of Rev. Mr. George Whitefield”. By the age of eighteen, Phillis Wheatley had written twenty-eight poems. Unfortunately, when the Wheatley’s put her poems in the local newspaper, people refused to support poems written by a slave, and no one in America would publish Phillis’s poems. So, along with Nathaniel Wheatley, Phillis went to London in 1771 seeking a publisher, and in 1773, thirty-nine of her poems were published in a book called Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Phillis’s poems began to become famous in America and England. When the Wheatley’s died, Phillis became a free citizen and supported herself as a seamstress but continued to write poetry. Her poems continued to grow more popular, and she even received praise from and met George Washington. In 1778, she married John Peters and together they had two children...
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