Black History Month: The first published African American

Do you know who was the first African American to be published? You would be surprised to know it was a 20 year-old slave named Phillis Wheatley in 1773.

Phillis Wheatley born in 1753 in Gambia/Senegal, Africa. A young girl was captured by slave traders and arrived the colonies  in 1761 on the ship, “the Phillis.” Bought by the prominent  Wheatley family in Boston to serve as a personal maid. The young slave was named Phillis and took the last name of Wheatley. Phillis was precocious and quickly learned English, Latin and Greek along with the Wheatley children. She held a favored position in the Wheatley family and yet was still a slave.

courtesy of American Antiquarian Society 

Phillis wrote poetry through her youth influenced by Neoclassical poets. Conventional for the times she wrote poems on morality, piety, and freedom. 

Wheatleys first book, “ Poems on Various things. Religious, and Moral,” was published in 1773 in London, Eventually she was published in America, and is considered the first African American to be published.

Phillis Wheatley represented an Abolishonists’ dream, an example of an educated black woman from Africa, a testimony that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual. 
 In 1776 she wrote to George Washington including a poem for him.

Thee, first in peace and honors—we demand
The grace and glory of thy maritial band.
Fam’d for the valour, for the virutes more, 
Hear every tongue the guardian aid implore!

Upon his invitation Phillis later met George Washington in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She carried on correspondence with various notables of the day, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John-Paul Jones and many religious leaders and members of the abolition movement, here and abroad. 

Freed prior to the death of the Wheatleys, the children also died in young adulthood, leaving Phillis to fend for herself after a life of comfort and privilege. She died in poverty at the age of thirty-one.

She is immortalized on a Boston common in bronze.

Boston Woman’s Memorial byArtist Meredith Bergmann

The memorial of three women who made significant contributions for Boston.
Abigal Adams:Phyllis Wheatley:Lucy Stone

More can be found here: 

Abigal Adams:Phyllis Wheatley:Lucy Stone

More can be found here:

and on numerous poetry sites.

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Thank you for your cooperation, 
Sandi Magle


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