The Wheatley family recognized her literary talents and supported her education. She went on to become an excellent poet. Although her work wasn’t hugely successful during her lifetime, it has been credited since.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 1: She was born in 1753 in West Africa. Her exact date of birth has not been recorded. She was most likely born in present day Senegal or Gambia.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 2: When she was sold into slavery at the age of seven, she was transported to the United States. She arrived in Boston, Massachusetts on July 11, 1761.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 3: She travelled to North America onboard a slave ship called The Phillis which was captained by Peter Gwinn and owned by Timothy Fitch.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 4: She was purchased by a family in Boston called the Wheatley family when she was eight years old. Her master was called John Wheatley and he had purchased the child as a servant for his wife Susanna Wheatley.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 5: Susanna Wheatly named her new slave Phillis after the ship which had transported her from Africa to America. She took on the same surname as her master which was customary for slaves to do so during these times.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 6: John and Susanna Wheatly had children of their own called Mary and Nathaniel. Mary was eighteen when Phillis joined them and she gave the child an education, teaching her how to read and write.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 7: She received a good education which was unusual for any slave, let alone a female during these times. She was a bright student and by the age of 12 years, she could read Greek and Latin classics as well as various Bible passages.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 8: She wrote her first poem at the age of 14, it was called 'To the University of Cambridge, in New England.' The Wheatley family knew that she was talented; they recognized her literary skills and supported her education.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 9: She continued to write poetry with the support of her master. Susanna Wheatly believed that Phillis would encounter better opportunities to publish her poetry if she went to London. At the age of 20, she accompanied Nathaniel to London where she was given an audience with various members of the British society.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 10: She sent her poem 'To His Excellency, George Washington' to George Washington in 1775. He invited Phillis to his headquarters in Massachusetts in March, 1776. The poem was republished in April, 1776, by Thomas Paine in the Pennsylvania Gazette.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 11: She was granted freedom from slavery in 1778 by her master. She married a free black man a few months later called John Peters, he was a grocer. The couple had children but due to poor living conditions, they didn't survive.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 12: John Peters was sent to prison in 1784 due to debts that he owed. Phillis Wheatley was unable to publish any of her literary works and poetry which she'd been working on, and this added to the couple's already difficult financial situation.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 13: She tried to support herself and her infant son by carrying out domestic work in a boarding house, however, she worked for racist and sexist people which only made her life more difficult.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 14: She died at the age of 31 on December 5, 1784. Her young son had suffered from poor health and he also died just a few hours following her death.
Phillis Wheatley Fact 15: She was able to express her thoughts, feelings and experiences through poetry. She wrote about slavery. The following quotation comes from one of her poems which was entitled 'One being brought from Africa to America':
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic dye."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
Short Facts about Phillis Wheatley for Kids
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