Phillis Wheatley was an African American poet in the 18th century. She is best known for her poem, "On Being Brought from Africa to America," as well as her book of poetry, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," published in 1773. Born in Senegal around 1753, Wheatley was brought to Boston, Massachusetts, as a slave in 1761.Continue Reading
Purchased as a house slave by Susanna and John Wheatley, Phillis was given an education when it became clear that she was extremely intelligent. In addition to reading and writing, Wheatley also learned Greek and Latin. She began writing poetry at an early age, and her first poem was published when she was 12. Titled "On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin," it was based on a story Wheatley had heard about survival at sea.
Wheatley's poetry favored the couplet and iambic pentameter. She also drew on classical themes and Biblical symbolism. Additionally, she wrote many elegies for friends, noted figures and strangers.
During her lifetime, Wheatley wrote around 145 poems and numerous letters, many of which have been lost. Wheatley continued to publish her poetry after the death of John and Susanna, though she was unable to find backing for a second book. She died in poverty in 1784.Learn more about Poetry