Today in labor history: African American poet Phillis Wheatley freed from slavery

On October 18, 1775, Phillis Wheatley – the first African-American poet and the first to publish a book – was freed from slavery.

She was sold into slavery during childhood and transported from West Africa to Boston (where she was purchased by the Wheatley family). John Wheatley, a merchant and sailor, was fairly progressive within the circumstances, in that he and his daughters tutored Phillis and strongly encouraged her to read and write; Phillis could read Greek and Latin, as well as complex Biblical passages, by the age of 12, according to the book Phillis Wheatley: Slave and Poet by Robin S. Doak. Phillis Wheatley’sdecision to pursue poetry was also supported by the Wheatleys, and in 1773, some of her poems were published in London.

Wheatley was freed from slavery after John Wheatley died, whereupon she wrote and published more poems, including one dedicated to George Washington (and voicing her support for the American Revolution).

Photo: Creative Commons 3.0


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Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.