British Views of Liberty

Phillis Wheatley, On Being Brought from Africa to America

[Click on image to enlarge] According to John Wheatley, the Boston merchant who had purchased her, "Phillis was brought from Africa to America in the Year 1761, between Seven and Eight Years of Age. Without any Assistance from School Education, and by only what she was taught in the Family, she, in sixteen Months Time from her Arrival, attained the English Language, to which she was an utter Stranger before, to such a Degree, as to read any the most difficult Parts of the Sacred Writings, to the great Astonishment of all who heard her."

As to her Writing, her own Curiosity led her to it; and this she learnt in so short a Time, that in the Year 1765, she wrote a Letter to the Rev. Mr. Occom, the Indian Minister, while in England.

When she went to London in 1773 to publish Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (certified as authentic by a committee of Boston dignitaries), she was warmly received. Later that year John Wheatley freed her. In 1778 she married a free black man, John Peters, but he could not support her; she died in poverty in 1784. Two centuries later, her book is often considered the starting place of African American literature.


'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That 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.

© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback  :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page