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Black History, American History: Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

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Boston, Massachusetts, Statue Of Poet Phillis Wheatley (1753 – December 5, 1784), Enslaved At The Age Of Eight, Is Widely Known As The First African-American Woman In United States' History To Have Her Poetry Published.

Statue of poet Phillis Wheatley (1753 –-December 5, 1784) in Boston, Mass., who is widely known as the first African-American woman in United States’ history to have her poetry published. (Credit: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Phillis Wheatley was enslaved at age seven to the Wheatley family of Boston. The family taught her to read and write, and she soon displayed considerable ability in both areas. By the time she was 11, Wheatley was reading Greek and Latin classics as well as passages from the Bible.

In 1773, 39 of Wheatley’s poems were published in London, making her the first African-American writer published. Most Americans at the time thought it was impossible for an African woman to write poetry, and Wheatley was forced to defend her abilities in court in 1772.

Wheatley wrote about what she knew and experienced, frequently focusing on Christian salvation.

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