Phillis Wheatley was believed to be born around 1753 in West Africa and at the age of 8 was shipped to North America to be sold as a slave. She was purchased by John Wheatley, a Boston farmer, for a small. She was so small and frail by the end of the trip the slave trader had figured she was not likely to survive much longer.
On the Wheatley farm Phillis was given food and board and unlike most other slaves, especially a females, she was also given an education. Taught to her by their eldest daughter and son, Phillis's bright and eager mind allowed her to quickly learn to read and write within a year and become knowledgeable in Greek, Latin, astronomy and geography. As she became more and more educated the Wheatley's began to notice a unique skill develop.
Phillis had a natural gift for writing poetry which the Wheatley's allowed her to pursue and leave the domestic work to the other family owned slaves. They took her to London to publish her very first set of poems. Her poems became widely popular and she began to correspond with and write for some of the most well known people of her time. Sadly, however because she was a slave many people had a hard time believing it was indeed her work. So in 1772 she appeared in court to defend her work.
Notable men such as John Erving, Reverend Charles Chauncey, John Hancock, and Boston Govenor Thomas Hutchinson found and ruled her work to be genuine and authentic. Their testimonies were included in the forward to her book, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral". She was granted emancipation shortly thereafter.
Phillis Wheatley was the first African American woman to be published. Her works were inspiring and admired. Even George Washington remarked his admiration for her poetry, responding to her poem entitled, "To His Excellency, George Washington", in which he then invited her to visit him in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And famous writer, Voltaire wrote in a letter to a friend that she was, "the most famous African on the earth".
Phillis Wheatley's journey from an enslaved child forced from her home to world renown author and enlightened influence should be shared with everyone. Her life story highlights the value of education, compassion and pursuing talents. She is a hero to our history and an example to us all.
On Being Brought from Africa to American
'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan landTaught my benighted soul to understandThat there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.Some view our sable race with scornful eye;"Their colour is a diabolic die."Remember, Christians, Negros black as Cain,May be refin'd, and join th'angelic train.
In honor of Phillis we've named this dress after her to help remind all those who wear it that they too have talents and skills to share with the world.