The Poems of Phillis Wheatley
Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral—one of the signal moments in American letters—was originally published in London, England, on September 1, 1773. Wheatley’s collection was the first volume of poetry by an African American poet to be published. Regarded as a prodigy by her contemporaries, Wheatley was approximately twenty at the time of the book’s publication. Although purchased as a domestic slave in Boston, she was educated in Latin, Greek, and the classics and, by age twelve, had published her first poem. Despite unsuccessful efforts to print Poems on Various Subjects in America, Wheatley found patronage to publish her work in London. She returned to Boston triumphant, only to be asked to defend the authorship of her poetry in court, under the examination of such Boston luminaries as John Hancock and Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The committee’s acknowledgement of her authorship, with a signed testimonial, was included in the 1787 Philadelphia-printed edition.
Phillis Wheatley (ca. 1753–1784). Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Philadelphia: Joseph James, 1787.