Wheatley, Phillis, 1753?–1784, American poet, considered the first important black writer in the United States. Brought from Africa in 1761, she became a house slave for the Boston merchant John Wheatley and his wife Susanna, who, recognizing her intelligence and wit, educated her and encouraged her talent. Her work, which was derivative, was published in the collection Poems on Various Subjects (1773) and in various magazines. A second volume existed in manuscript, but it was not published and was subsequently lost. Although Wheatley traveled to England, where she was much admired, and soon thereafter obtained her freedom, she eventually died in poverty.
See her Life and Works (1916, repr. 1969); biography by V. Carretta (2011); H. L. Gates, Jr., The Trials of Phillis Wheatley (2003).
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