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Phillis Wheatley's Story

Historians and writers discuss the life of the poet Phillis Wheatley. Wheatley was a child when she was captured in Africa and brought to Boston, where she was enslaved. Although her poetry on the themes of freedom and oppression brought her international fame, she nevertheless spent most of her life enslaved to the Wheatley family.

A view of the port of Boston, including Long Wharf

1750-1790

R. Byron (Unknown, active 1750-1790)

The port of Boston where Phillis Weatley arrived as an enslaved girl appears in this image.

Boston Public Library

Africa

1665

Unknown

This reproduction of a historical map shows the continent of Africa, along with small illustrations representing the people of the various regions.

Historic Urban Plans, Inc., Ithaca, NY.

William Legge, Second Earl of Dartmouth (1731-1801)

1752/3-1756

Pompeo Batoni (Italian, 1708-1787)

Phillis Wheatley met the Earl of Dartmouth in England and, later, addressed a poem to him that became one of her best-known pieces.

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through gifts from Jame and W. David Dance, Class of 1940; Jonathon L. Cohen, Class of 1960, Tuck 1961; Frederick B. Whittemore, Class of 1953, Tuck, 1954; Barbara Dau Southwell, Class of 1978 and David Southwell, Tuck 1988; Parnassus Foundation/Jane and Raphael Bernstein; and an anonymous donor.

Letter from Phillis Wheatley to David Wooster

18 October 1773

Phillis Wheatley (American, born West Africa, c. 1753-1784)

Phillis Wheatley's signature on a letter that describes her manumission from John Wheatley, her visit to London and sales of her book of poems.

Massachusetts Historical Society, from the Hugh Upham Clark collection.

A Poem: by Phillis a Negro Girl, in Boston

1770

Ezekiel Rusesell (Possibly American, 1743-1796), John Boyles (Possibly American,1746-1819)

The cover of this edition is designed to promote Phillis Wheatley's name and description as much as the title of the poem.

New York Public Library, Rare Book Division.

Frontispiece, with portrait of Phillis Wheatley

1773

Printed for A. Bell, publisher (American, active 1770s)

Phillis Wheatley's portrait appears in a collection of her poems.

Massachusetts Historical Society.

"A Poem on the Death of Charles Eliot"

September 1, 1772

Phillis Wheatley (American, born West Africa, c. 1753-1784)

Phillis Wheatley's poem on a death of a young child, in her own handwriting.

Massachusetts Historical Society.

A South East View of the Great Town of Boston...

c. 1737

John Carwitham (British, active ca. 1723–41)

The city of Boston as it appeared prior to Phillis Wheatley's arrival.

Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, Inc.

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