“Eighteenth Century Poet, Phillis Wheatley”
Mixed Media on Paper
11 inches x 14 inches
Kidnapped from West Africa—Senegal/Gambia—in her youth, Phillis Wheatley was taken to Boston where she was bought by John Wheatley to serve his wife, Susanna. Seeing the child brimming with intelligence and wit, Susanna took a shine to young Phillis and decided that—with her two children—that she’d be educated in their household. It was through the Wheatleys that she could publicize her works. Her pursuit of literacy was greatly encouraged, which led to her first published poem at the age of thirteen of a story depicting two men who almost drowned in their seafaring ventures, printed in the Newport Mercury. Her poems quickly gained attention with several being published in her first book called “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” that includes a preface that a group of Boston men (including John Hancock) boasting of her authorship.
Soon, many through the colonies to England heard of her works such as the Countess of Huntingdon, Selina Hastings, and was invited to the headquarters of George Washington himself in Cambridge Massachusetts after writing several poems to him in his honor. In her travels to London, her health was nearly in tatters, but continued to promote her works. However, upon returning to Boston, she was met with news of the Wheatley family passing. Once married in 1778 to a free man, she was met with even more struggle and fought poverty at every turn. She was forced to work in harsh conditions as a maid and the tensions of the Revolutionary War drove a stake through her zeal for writing.
In the end, she still tried to contact many publishers and was met with dead ends in finding one to publish her second volume after the passing of the war. Phillis still had a hand in creativity that marked her as the first African American and one of the first American woman to publish a book of poetry in the colonies. It was her prodigious gift of poetry and writing saw her to freedom.