The First Published African-American Poet

Phillis Wheatley was a slave kidnapped from West Africa and brought to Boston in 1761. John Wheatley purchased Phillis for his wife and over time, they allowed her to learn to read and write, which was uncommon in the days of slavery. Wheatley became the first African-American to publish a book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, at only 20 years old. Yesterday marked the 243rd anniversary of her book’s publication.

Image courtesy of

‘Phillis Wheatley’ was the name given to her by the family that bought her. It was customary for slaves to take the last name of their master and for them to give their slaves new names. 

The image of Wheatley inside her own book has an inscription that reads: “Phillis Wheatley: Negro Servant of Mr. John Wheatley of Boston.” Take a look below:

Image courtesy of

Although we do not know Phillis Wheatley’s real name, we know her for the great poems she produced. The Wheatleys took interest in Phillis’ education and she learned many great works of literature. 

At 12 she began studying Latin and English literature, especially the poetry of Alexander Pope, soon translating Ovid into heroic couplets (  

Today, Phillis Wheatley is remembered as a great poet of her time, acknowledged as someone who overcame the odds of slavery, and learned an impeccable craft. 


Featured image courtesy of