Who was Phillis Wheatley?

Phillis Wheatley was a remarkable poet and the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry. Her life and literary achievements continue to inspire and hold great significance in the history of American literature and the fight against slavery.


The story of Phillis Wheatley begins with her early life as an enslaved person and leads to her eventual rise as a prominent poet and advocate for African-American rights. This article explores the various aspects of her life, her literary contributions, and the lasting impact she had on future generations.

Early Life and Enslavement

Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, around 1753, and was taken from her homeland and enslaved at the tender age of seven. She was purchased by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, and given the name Phillis, after the ship that brought her to America. Despite being enslaved, Phillis received an education, which was highly unusual for a person in her circumstances.

Education and Literary Achievements

Under the guidance of her owners, the Wheatley family, Phillis Wheatley received an education that focused on classical literature and the English language. She quickly displayed an extraordinary talent for poetry and began composing her own verses at a young age. Her poetic skills drew the attention and admiration of the Boston community.

Published Works

In 1773, at the age of 20, Phillis Wheatley’s first volume of poetry, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” was published. This made her the first African-American woman to have her work published. The collection contained numerous elegies, odes, and religious poems that showcased her intellect, poetic technique, and her deep spiritual beliefs.

Impact and Significance

Phillis Wheatley’s published work received both national and international acclaim. Her poems were praised for their elegant style and profound messages. In a time when African-Americans were marginalized and oppressed, Wheatley’s success challenged prevailing stereotypes and served as a testament to the intellectual capabilities of people of African descent.


Phillis Wheatley’s legacy extends far beyond her poetry. Her achievements as a writer, an intellectual, and an advocate for freedom and equality paved the way for future African-American writers and thinkers. Her work contributed to the abolitionist movement and played a crucial role in challenging the notion that people of African descent were intellectually inferior.


Phillis Wheatley’s life and accomplishments continue to resonate today. Her journey from slavery to literary success serves as an inspiration to all those who face adversity. Through her poetry, Wheatley challenged the norms of her time, leaving an indelible mark on the history of American literature and the fight against racial injustice.


FAQ 1: Did Phillis Wheatley face challenges in getting her work published?

Yes, Phillis Wheatley faced significant challenges in getting her work published due to the prevailing biases and prejudices against African-Americans. Despite these challenges, she persevered and became the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry.

FAQ 2: What themes did Phillis Wheatley’s poetry explore?

Phillis Wheatley’s poetry explored various themes, including religion, morality, freedom, and the human condition. Her works often delved into her deep spirituality, reflecting her Christian faith and the struggles of her own life as an enslaved person.

FAQ 3: How did Phillis Wheatley’s poetry impact the abolitionist movement?

Phillis Wheatley’s poetry played a significant role in the abolitionist movement of the late 18th century. Her writings humanized the experiences of enslaved individuals, shedding light on the atrocities of slavery and challenging the notion of racial inferiority. Her work became a powerful tool in the fight against slavery.

FAQ 4: What was the significance of Phillis Wheatley being the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry?

Phillis Wheatley’s achievement as the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry was groundbreaking. It shattered stereotypes and provided a platform for African-American voices to be heard in the literary world. Her success paved the way for future generations of African-American writers and artists.

FAQ 5: How did Phillis Wheatley’s work contribute to the understanding of African-American intellectual capabilities?

Phillis Wheatley’s work challenged the prevailing belief that people of African descent were intellectually inferior. Her poetry demonstrated a profound intellect, sophisticated literary techniques, and a deep understanding of various subjects. Her accomplishments helped debunk the myth of racial inferiority and contributed to a greater understanding of African-American intellectual capabilities.

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