Phillis Wheatley Peters was born in West Africa in 1753. At the age of eight, she was kidnapped, enslaved in New England, and sold to John Wheatley of Boston. Phillis was the first African-American and one of the first woman to publish a book of poetry in the colonies, Wheatley began writing poetry at thirteen. Her poem “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield” was published as a broadside in cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and garnered Wheatley national acclaim. This poem was also printed in London. Over the next few years, she would print a number of broadsides elegizing prominent English and colonial leaders. In 1773, thirty-nine of her poems were published in London as Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, which became the first book of poetry published by an enslaved African-American in the United States. The book included poems dealing with race, such as the often-anthologized “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” She returned to America in 1773.
After the elder Wheatleys died, Phillis was left to support herself as a seamstress and poet. It is unclear precisely when Wheatley was freed from slavery, although scholars suggest it occurred between 1774 and 1778. In 1776. In 1778, she married John Peters, who kept a grocery store. They had three children, all of whom died young. Wheatley
experienced difficulty publishing her poems, soliciting subscribers for a new volume that would include thirty-three new poems and thirteen letters. Unable to raise the funds.
Phillis Wheatley, who had once been internationally celebrated, died alone in a boarding house on December 5, 1784. She was thirty-one years old. Many of the poems for her proposed second volume disappeared and have never been recovered.