top of page
The details of her trip: 

Phillis Wheatley arrived in London on June 27, 1773. Wheatley was there for six weeks. It was a five-week journey home to Boston, Massachusetts. Meaning she most likely returned home around September 12th.


Why she traveled

Wheatley had suffered from poor health since she had arrived at the Wheatley's. The trauma of being kidnapped and enslaved likely had something to do with this. The condition she suffered from sounds like modern day asthma. She went to London to receive more medical care. On a more practical note, her master Nathaniel Wheatley was traveling to London for business as a merchant. Wheatley could go to receive medical treatment. Another factor at play here was that English society was more accepting of black authors and as she couldn't find the funding to be published in Boston had a chance to be published in the UK. 

Early Life 

1753? -61:

We do not know the exact date of birth of Wheatley. The year 1753 comes from the estimation that Wheatley was around seven or eight years old when she came to America, because she had missing teeth. She arrived in America from the slave ship the Phillis in 1761. As a young child Wheatley was stolen from her parents in West Africa and was enslaved. Wheatley discusses the heartbreak her family endured due to this in her poem ‘To the Right Honorable WILLIAM, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North America’. She survived the Middle Passage (the name for the journey enslaved people had to endure from Africa to their destination in colonies or Europe). This is estimated to have taken around 80 days, she arrived in Boston naked and malnourished. The journey had to have been traumatizing for a small child alone without any family members. The Wheatley family bought her as their domestic slave and renamed her Phillis after the slave ship she arrived on.  


Phillis Wheatley

After (?) Scipio Moorhead, 1773, Public Domain, Edited, Met Museum

Poetry Career

1770 - 1776:


Wheatley’s first published poem was ‘An elegiac poem, on the death of that celebrated divine, and eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and learned George Whitefield, chaplain to the Right Honourable the Countess of Huntington’. 



Her novel Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published on September 1, 1773. She was emancipated in this same year after her trip to London. 



Wheatley writes a poem for George Washington and the two-share correspondence. Washington was very grateful for the poem as seen below.  

“I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed; and however undeserving I may be of such encomium and panegyrick, the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents. In honour of which, and as a tribute justly due to you, I would have published the Poem, had I not been apprehensive, that, while I only meant to give the World this new instance of your genius, I might have incurred the imputation of Vanity. This, and nothing else, determined me not to give it place in the public Prints”
“From George Washington to Phillis Wheatley, 28 February 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 3, 1 January 1776 – 31 March 1776, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988, p. 387.] 

George Washington

by Unidentified Artist, after 1796, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain, Edited to remove background

Later Life

1778 - 1785:


Wheatley married John Peters, a free black man. The couple has three children, sadly all the children died in infancy.  


Wheatley tries to garner support for her second novel which was going to be dedicated to Benjamin Franklin but fails to get adequate support and cannot publish her novel. These poems have not been found.  


Wheatley dies in poverty in Boston. She died without the support of her elite friends who supported her in 1773. 


Thomas Jefferson insults Wheatley’s poetry and claims she was not a real poet because of her race in his novel Notes on the State of Virginia.  


Thomas Jefferson 

By Robert Field, after Gilbert Stuart, 1807, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain edited to remove background

bottom of page