A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.


Phillis Wheatley

1753 - 5 December 1784

Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa in 1753. In 1761, she was kidnapped and brought to Boston, Massachusetts, on board the slave ship Phillis (for which she was later named) and purchased by John Wheatley as a personal servant for his wife. The Wheatley family taught Phillis to read and write; she quickly mastered English, Greek and Latin. In 1770, she published her first poem, "An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield." In 1773, John Wheatley's son escorted Phillis to London where her first book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published. In 1776, she published a poem dedicated to General George Washington, whom she met at his headquarters in Cambridge. Phillis was freed following the death of Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley, and in 1778 she married John Peters, a free black man with whom she had three children. After Peters abandoned her, Phillis and her one remaining child died in poverty on 5 December 1784.