Phillis Wheatley

Updated: 1/20/2021
Phillis Wheatley

Storyboard Text

  • Phillis Wheatley was born on May 8, 1753 in Senegal. At the age of seven, she was kidnapped and brought to Boston on an enslaved person ship. Upon her arrival, John Wheatley purchased the young girl, who was in fragile health. John was very kind to her and he asked his daughter, Mary to tutor Phillis and teach her to read and write in English. On bringing her home, they renamed her Phillis, after the slave ship that brought her to America. It is not known when, but very soon, she started her education under John Whitney’s daughter Mary and son Nathaniel. After mastering English, Phillis began to study Greek and Latin. Slowly, she also started studying ancient history, geography, astronomy and literature.
  • Wheatley wrote her first published poem at around age 13. The work, a story about two men who nearly drown at sea, was printed in the Newport Mercury. Other published poems followed, with several also being published, further increasing Wheatley's fame.In 1773, Wheatley gained considerable stature when her first and only book of verse, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published, with the writer having received patronage from Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, in England.
  • Phillis was pregnant at the time her husband abandoned her and lived the rest of her life in poverty. Phillis stopped writing in order to support herself and her soon to be born child. She found work in a boarding house, she was not used to physical work and soon she fell ill. She developed pneumonia and on December 5th, 1784 after giving birth to her daughter, Phillis died alone and poor, her daughter died the same day. Phillis was 31 years old.