Phillis Wheatley

In 1773, Phillis Wheatley was freed from slavery and became the first African American to publish a book of poetry. She was bought by John and Susanna Wheatley in 1761. Recognizing her intellectual abilities, they encouraged Phillis to study classical literature, theology and the Bible.

By age 12, she could read Greek and Latin and understood “complex” biblical passages in those languages. Her poetry was published in 1773, titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. She often applied biblical symbolism to comment on slavery. In her best-known poem, On Being Brought From Africa to America, she chides her Christian readers and references Cain from the book of Genesis, writing: “Remember, Christian, Negroes, black as Cain, may be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.”

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