As an avid poet myself, I had to talk about the melodious West African queen, Phyillis Wheatley.
Phillis was born in the country of Senegal. She was kidnapped at the age of 8 and brought to the city of Boston, MA. Once she arrived, John Wheatley purchased her as a servant for his wife. Unlike most slave owners, the Wheatley’s took interest in Phllis and taught her how to read. The family also actively encouraged her literary pursuits. It is clear to see her life was an anomaly in comparison to the average life of a slave in the 1700’s.
In 1773, her first and only book of poems was published, entitled, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. This book brought her to the forefront as the first African American and U.S. slave to publish a book of poems.
All right Phillis, I see you girl!
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. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, “Their color is a diabolic die.” Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
Although she was at the top of her game early in life, struggles developed later on. She married John Peters, a freed slave, with whom she had 3 children. Unfortunately her children all died in infancy. Due to the couple’s constant battle with poverty, Phyllis was forced to work and live in fetid conditions as a maid in a boarding house.
Despite her working conditions she continued to write poems. However, revolutionary warfare deterred people’s enthusiasm for her work. Due to a lack of support, her second volume of poetry was never published. Phillis Wheatley died in her early 30’s on December 5, 1784 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Even though her rise to fame fell short all too quickly, she still paved the way for future poets such as: Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Anne Spencer and Audre Lorde alike.
Sources: Biography, Our Heritage Magazine, History