Phillis Wheatley's Poems On Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
On September 1, 1773, Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published in London, England.
Wheatley's collection was the first volume of poetry by an African-American poet to be published. Regarded as a prodigy by her contemporaries, Wheatley was approximately twenty at the time of the book's publication.
Born in the Senegambia region of West Africa, she was sold into slavery and transported to Boston at age seven or eight. Purchased off the slave ship by prosperous merchant John Wheatley and his wife Susanna in 1761, the young Phillis was soon copying the English alphabet on a wall in chalk.
Rather than fearing her precociousness, the Wheatleys encouraged it, allowing their daughter Mary to tutor Phillis in reading and writing. She also studied English literature, Latin, and the Bible—a strong education for any eighteenth-century woman. Wheatley's first published poem, "On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin," was published in Rhode Island's Newport Mercury newspaper on December 21, 1767.
Manumitted by the Wheatley family, the poet sailed to London in 1773. Her reputation preceded her. She met many influential people, including the Lord Mayor of London who presented her with a copy of Milton's Paradise Lost. Her volume of poetry was published under the patronage of Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.
Phillis Wheatley (1753 – December 5, 1784) was the first published African American poet and first African-American woman whose writings helped create the genre of African American literature. Born in Gambia, she was made a slave at age seven. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and helped encourage her poetry.
The 1773 publication of Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral brought her fame, with figures such as George Washington praising her work. Wheatley also toured England and was praised in a poem by fellow African American poet Jupiter Hammon. Wheatley was emancipated by her owners after her poetic success, but stayed with the Wheatley family until the death of her former master and the breakup of his family.
ARISE, my soul, on wings enraptur'd, rise
To praise the monarch of the earth and skies,
Whose goodness and beneficence appear
As round its centre moves the rolling year,
Or when the morning glows with rosy charms,
Or the sun slumbers in the ocean's arms:
Of light divine be a rich portion lent
To guide my soul, and favour my intent.
Celestial muse, my arduous flight sustain
And raise my mind to a seraphic strain! ”— Phillis Wheatley, "Thoughts on the Works of Providence"