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Selected Poetry of Phillis Wheatley (1753?-1784)


from Representative Poetry On-line
Prepared by members of the Department of English at the University of Toronto
from 1912 to the present and published by the University of Toronto Press from 1912 to 1967.
RPO Edited by Ian Lancashire
A UTEL (University of Toronto English Library) Edition
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries
© 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto

Index to poems

'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.
        (On Being Brought from Africa to America)
  1. On Being Brought from Africa to America
  2. On Virtue
  3. To a Gentleman and Lady on the Death of the Lady's Brother and Sister


Notes on Life and Works

As a child slave, Phillis Wheatley was shipped on the Phillis to Boston from West Africa, possibly the Gambia river region, on July 11, 1761, when she was about 7-8 years of age. Susanna Wheatley, a Christian and wife of merchant John Wheatley, purchased her. Taught by Susanna's daughter Mary, Phillis began writing by 1765. She first published a poem in a newspaper in 1767 at about 14 years old. The second time she sent a volume of poems to a publisher, in 1772, she was personally examined by a printer's 18-man jury to attest that she was their author ... that the poems were "written by PHILLIS, a young Negro Girl, who was but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa, and has ever since been, and now is, under the Disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a Family in this Town" ("To the PUBLICK"). In this year Mary Wheatley's twin brother Nathaniel took Phillis to England in the family-owned ship, London Packet, which arrived June 17. Phillis returned to Boston September 13 to be at the side of dying Susanna Wheatley just after Phillis' book was published, with assistance from the countess of Huntingdon, to whom Phillis dedicated it June 12. By October John Wheatley set Phillis free. On April 1, 1778, she married John Peters and they had three children and settled in Wilmington, Mass. She tried but failed to have a second volume of poems published in 1779. She died December 5, 1784, 31 years old, in poverty, her children predeceasing her. Her funeral was in Boston. The first US publication of her Poems took place in Philadelphia two years later.

See also

Biographical information

Given name: Phillis
Family name: Wheatley
Birth date: 1753?
Death date: 1784