Wheatley, Phillis 
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Time Period
1753  - 1784
Phillis Wheatley was brought to Boston on a slave ship in 1761 and sold to the Wheatley family. Within 16 months, her owners noticed her intelligence and taught her to read and write. In addition to classical literature, she was encouraged to read the Bible and subsequently learned to interpret some of the most difficult biblical passages.

Soon, Wheatley began to write her own poetry and became the first published African-American female poet. Influenced by the First Great Awakening, most of her poems were religious and centered around education, virtue and redemption through Christ. Her first known poem ("To the University of Cambridge," 1767) urged college students to avoid immorality. After publishing a praise of George Whitefield in 1770, she published her first and only book in 1773 entitled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.

Her sophisticated poetry countered stereotypes of blacks as subhuman and aided abolitionists, who sought to highlight the great capabilities of African-Americans.
Interactive Timeline(s)
Race/Ethnicity and Religion
Women and Religion
Browse Related Timeline Entries
Race/Ethnicity and Religion in American History
Women and Religion in American History
Religious Groups
Timeline Entries for the same religious group Congregationalists (UCC)
Congregationalists (UCC): Other ARDA Links


Phillis Wheatley portrait- Wikimedia Commons

Phillis Wheatley portrait- National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, title page- Internet Archive

Phillis Wheatley statue- Flickr- photo by Lorianne DiSabato (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Book/Journal Source(s)
Murphy, Larry, J. Gordon Melton, and Gary Ward, 1993. Encyclopedia of African American Religions. New York: Garland.
Reid, Daniel, Robert Linder, Bruce Shelley, and Harry Stout, 1990. Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL.
Web Page Contributor
Benjamin T. Gurrentz
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in Sociology

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