WHEATLEY, PHILLIS Although her poetry was somewhat imitative of established British poets, especially Alexander Pope, Phillis Wheatley's place in the mainstream of American literary development cannot be denied. She was the first American black to have a book published.
Born in Senegal about 1753, she was brought to colonial America as a slave. Purchased in Boston by a prosperous merchant, John Wheatley, the young and frail child assumed the Wheatley surname. Her subsequent interest in writing (she wrote her first poem when she was thirteen) stemmed from her reading of the Bible and the classics under the tutelage of the Wheatley's daughter, Mary. Twelve years after having arrived in America, Phillis Wheatley had not only mastered the English language but had also published a book of verse, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). Frail and sickly from birth, Wheatley died in 1784, having been manumitted six years earlier.