Phillis Wheatley provided the world with an inside glimpse of what life was like as a colored woman in the late 18th century. Brought to Boston, MA on a slave ship before the age of 10, she became a personal slave to the wife of John Wheatley. Their recognition of her intelligence and fiery spirit led them to eliminate slavery for her and provide her with an advanced education instead.
1. She Started Early
It would only take about 4 years from Wheatley’s arrival in the United States for her to become a published poet. At the age of 12, her first poem was published and many more soon came after. The only book of poetry that she would ever have published would happen right around her 20th birthday and more than a dozen men had to testify that she indeed wrote the poems.
2. A Life of Poverty
Although Wheatley would travel to London to promote her poetry, she and her husband would live a life that was extremely poor. She had three children, but all of them died while still infants. Instead of poems helping to provide a living, Wheatley was forced to find work as a maid. No one would publish a second volume of her work.
3. A Revolutionary
Wheatley wrote numerous poems in support of the Revolutionary War. Many of them were either inspired by George Washington or written about him. “Though Winter frowns to Fancy’s raptur’d eyes, the fields may flourish, and gay scenes arise; The frozen deeps may break their iron bands, and bid their waters murmur o’er the sands.”
4. An Important Change
Before Phillis Wheatley, many people around the world felt like those with skin that was colored darker were of an inferior intelligence. Through the efforts of the Wheatley family, of whom she’d eventually take their name, she was able to prove that this was a misconception. “Some view our sable race with scornful eye, “Their color is a diabolic die.” Remember Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, maybe refin’d and join the angelic train.”
Phillis Wheatley was able to change the world before the age of 20. Although she continued to write, no one really knows what level of influence she would wind up having. Many refused to read her works because of the color of her skin. Yet despite these difficulties, Wheatley is still often remembered as one of the most influential poets of her time.