Phillis Wheatley: Boston

Phillis Wheatley: Boston

  • <p>Early Edition of Philis Wheatley's "Poems On Various Subjects"</p> <p>Early Edition of Philis Wheatley's "Poems On Various Subjects"</p>

"Through thickest gloom look back, immortal shade,

On that confusion which thy death has made."

Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston, enslaved, at the age of seven. She was purchased by the Wheatley family, who encouraged her literacy and further education. She was fully literate within a few short years, studying the Bible and Greek and Latin classics by the age of twelve. The Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, continued Phillis's education by teaching her science, geography and history. Wheatley wrote her first poem at the age of twelve or thirteen, and quickly rose to prominence as a writer.

She became the first female African American poet; her poetry was a sensation in London before it ever saw publication in Boston. Though she became respected in literary circles in Great Britain as well as North America, during the Revolutionary War Wheatley’s writings were sympathetic to the colonists. In 1775 she wrote “To his Excellency George Washington”, which Washington later thanked her for by inviting her to his home. Wheatley was respected not only for her poetry but also for her role as a groundbreaker for African American women. In 1772, she went before a panel of well-known and well-educated Bostonian men (including John Hancock and governor Thomas Hutchinson) to attest and prove that her writing was her own.

The slave ship carrying Wheatley docked at Avery's Wharf in 1761; a plaque now commemorates the site at present-day Beach and Tyler Streets in Boston's Chinatown. Wheatley's statue is included in the Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Ave, in the Back Bay.