Phillis Wheatley was a woman whose life changed radically when she was brought from the Gambia to America. Being bought as a slave, she managed to become the most popular female Afro-American poet to officially publish her books. Of course, that would be impossible without the support of the family she lived in. One more fact that made her stand out of the crowd was that, unlike many poets and writers, she became famous during her lifetime.
Unfortunately, many people know neither about the hardships she overcame before turning famous nor about her life in general. We want to fix this because we believe that Wheatley’s life can serve as an example of unbelievable strength of character and willingness to pursue a higher road. Here we have gathered 8 interesting facts about her that our readers may not know about. Let’s see what these facts are…
Phillis Wheatley: 8 interesting facts about the first female Afro-American poet
1. Phillis Wheatley ‘s real name and date of birth are unknown
Even though the exact place of Wheatley’s birth is unknown, historians believe that she was born either in Gambia or Senegal. At the age of 7, she was sold as a slave to a trader who came to West Africa on business.
Upon arriving in the British colony of Massachusetts, the trader sold the girl to John Wheatley, a rich merchant from Boston. John Wheatley bought the girl as a slave for his wife Susanna Wheatley. The girl was named Phillis after the ship on the board of which she came to Boston. Since she was bought by Wheatley, she had to take his surname. It was what the slaves were supposed to do.
2. Wheatley’s owners played a crucial role in her education
Phillis Wheatley was supposed to help around the house she lived in, but her poor health often forced her to stay in bed rather than cleaning or washing dishes. Luckily for her, her owners were quite liberal in their views and decide to keep her. Instead, they decided to educate her, an interesting afct about Phillis Wheatley
No slave owners had ever done anything close to what the Wheatley’s family did. Slaves weren’t supposed to be educated. Apparently, the Wheatley’s didn’t agree with that. John Wheatley’s children taught Phillis Wheatley to read and write. When Wheatley turned 12, she could easily read and understand texts written in Latin and Greek. She also enjoyed reading and learning by heart passages from the Bible.
3. Her owners supported the idea of her further education
An interesting fact about Phillis Wheatley is that she wrote her first poem titled “To the University of Cambridge, New England” when she was 14 years old. Upon reading the poem, John Wheatley realized that the girl had a talent and could achieve success in the literary world. The family freed Wheatley of her responsibilities around the house and decided to improve her education further.
The Wheatley’s family were proud of her academic achievements and never thought of hiding the fact that they supported and encouraged Wheatley on her way. They often boated her talent and successes in front of their friends and relatives.
4. Wheatley’s style in poetry was greatly influenced by the works of many famous poets and intellectuals
Whitley loved reading and studying the works of Alexander Pope, Homer, John Milton and Vigil. Inspired by their example, she started to write her own poems.
5. Wheatley travelled to London and was introduced to the influential men of British society
By the age of 20, Wheatley had already written her first and only book of poems titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Even though the Wheatley’s family did everything possible to publish the book, all their efforts were in vain. Not a single publisher in America wanted to publish the book written by a slave.
Susanna Wheatley refused to give up and organized a trip for Phillis Wheatley to London. She believed that Wheatley was more likely to publish her book there. As it turned out later, her intuition didn’t fail her.
In 1773, accompanied by Nathaniel Wheatley, Phillis Wheatley went to London. It was in London that she was introduced to many prominent men and women that later became her patrons, an interesting Phillis Wheatley fact. She drew the attention of Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntington, who helped to publish the book in summer 1773. The book became popular not only in England but in the US as well.
6. Phillis Wheatley’s owners freed her
Soon after her return to America, she grieved the loss of Susanna Wheatley. In 1778, John and Mary Wheatley, the other two persons that Phillis Wheatley deeply loved and cared for, died. The will of John Wheatley clearly stated that Phillis Wheatley should be freed after his death.
7. Her poems were inspired by the Revolutionary War
The end of the Revolutionary War put an end to Whitley’s career. Due to the lack of money and loss of all patrons, she failed to publish new poems.
8. Wheatley had big financial problems
After the death of all Wheatley’s, Phillis Wheatley married John Peters, a free black grocer. The couple had 3 children, two of whom died in infancy.
The family’s financial problems were so serious that Peters was sent to debtor’s prison in 1784. Phillis Wheatley had to work as a maid to provide her only son with everything he needed.
Phillis Wheatley the first female Afro-American to have achieved great success as a poet, died in December 1784. Believe it or not, but her only child soon after that.
By becoming a famous poet, she set an example to all the talented women in the world who could achieve success in the literary world.
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