On this day in 1767: Phillis Wheatley’s first published poem appeared in print.
Phillis Wheatley, a 13-year-old enslaved African girl, had the first of her poems published on December 21, 1767. ”On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin” was printed in the Rhode Island Newport Mercury.
History does not know the real name of the girl kidnapped from Senegal when she was 7 or 8 years old. Phillis is the name of the slave ship that brought her to Boston. Wheatley is the name of the man who purchased her for his wife. The Wheatleys taught Phillis to read and write, unusual for slave holders. They recognized her talents enough to provide her with additional learning and encouraged her writing. Mrs. Wheatley, especially, championed Phillis Wheatley’s poetry, if not her freedom. Wheatley earned widespread recognition with An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine…George Whitefield. Although recognized for her poetry and finally manumitted in 1773, Phillis Wheatley died in poverty. In addition to her poetry, she is remembered for her opposition to slavery on the grounds—and as living proof—that Africans were not an inferior race.