Primary Source

Memoirs and Poems of Phillis Wheatley

The frontispiece of Memoirs and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, featuring a drawing of Wheatley and her signature. The caption reads "Negro servant to Mr. John Wheatley of Boston."
The title page of Memoirs and Poems of Phillis Wheatley.

Annotation

Phillis Wheatley (c.1753-1784) was an enslaved African American poet and author. Despite this, the work Memoirs and Poems of Phillis Wheatley was compiled and the memoirs themselves written by Margaretta Matilda Odell, a supposed "collateral descendent of Mrs. Wheatley." According to Odell, Phillis Wheatley was taken from Africa and transported to Boston when she was approximately seven-years-old, where the Wheatley family purchased her as a domestic servant. The Wheatley family educated Phillis, and she became the first enslaved person to publish a book of poems, titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in England in 1773. Phillis continued writing until her death in 1784. In her biography, Odell holds up Phillis Wheatley as representative of enslaved African Americans, rather than as "a solitary instance of African genius." The memoirs remain a core reference on Phillis Wheatley's life, despite not being written by Wheatley herself. Combined with the fact that it was published fifty years after Wheatley's death during a period of increasing divide on the issue of slavery, Memoirs and Poems functions both as the insight of an enslaved woman during the colonial period and how her legacy was utilized after her death.

This source is part of the Analyzing Personal Accounts methods module.

Credits

How to Cite This Source

"Memoirs and Poems of Phillis Wheatley," in World History Commons, https://worldhistorycommons.org/memoirs-and-poems-phillis-wheatley [accessed December 9, 2022]