Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley (1753–84) was the first African American to publish a book of poetry. Taking her name from the slave ship, The Phillis, that brought her to Massachusetts and the well-to-do Wheatley family whose property she became, Phillis showed such a natural aptitude for language that her owners eventually granted her her freedom. In 1772, she was summoned to court to defend the ownership of her own words, since many believed it impossible for an African-American slave to write poetry of such high quality. The following year, however, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published, to great acclaim.