Phillis Wheatley Timeline
Timeline Description: Phillis Wheatley was a literary pioneer for both African Americans and women. She is the second published African American, and the first published African American woman. As a former slave, she destroyed the belief that slaves were not capable of intelligent or profound thought.

Date Event
1753 Wheatley is born in Africa.

Although Wheatley's birth is not documented, it is believed that she was born in 1753 in what is now Gambia or Senegal.
July 11, 1761 Wheatley is kidnapped and brought to America.

At the age of seven, Wheatley is kidnapped and brought to Boston, Massachusetts on a slave ships called The Phillis.
1761 Wheatley is quickly purchased by Boston merchant John Wheatley, who purchased the girl for his wife, Susanna.

She named the young girl Phillis after the ship she traveled on, who was then given the surname Wheatley.
1765 Wheatley has her first poem published.

At the age of twelve, Wheatley sees her first poem published in the Newport Mercury. Since getting purchased by the Wheatley family, Phillis has received an unparalleled education; in large part thanks to the personal tutoring of the Wheatley children, Mary and Nathaniel.
1770 Wheatley begins to receive widespread acclaim.

Wheatley's poetic tribute to evangelist George Whitefield is published. The poem is praised for its articulacy and graceful power, and Wheatley begins to be considered a talented writer and poet.
1772 Wheatley is forced to defend her poetry in court.

Wheatley appears in court to defend herself against the claim that an African American woman could not have possible written the work attributed to her. Her work is thoroughly examined by a handful of Boston's finest literary and political figures. It is determined that the work is hers. A preface attesting to the poetry's authenticity is signed and included in her first book of poetry.
1773 Wheatley accompanies Nathaniel to England.

Because Susanna feels Phillis will have an easier time of getting her poems published in England, Phillis accompanies Nathaniel overseas. The trip is ultimately a success, as Phillis publishes her only complete book of poetry entitled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. The book was later reprinted in 1802.
1775 Wheatley writes a poem for George Washington.

Wheatley writes an ode to George Washington entitled "To His Excellency, George Washington." Phillis sends the poem to Washington.
March 1776 Washington invites Wheatley for a visit.

Touched by the eloquently written poem, Washington invites Wheatley to his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wheatley humbly accepts.
April 1776 Wheatley is published in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Thomas Paine publishes the George Washington ode in the Pennsylvania Gazette.
1778 Wheatley is freed.

In accordance with John Wheatley's will, Phillis is freed upon her master's death.
1778 Wheatley marries John Peters.

Wheatley marries black grocer John Peters. The couple lives in very poor and impoverished conditions, likely contributing to the death of two infant children.
1784 Wheatley's husband imprisoned for debt.

After her husband is imprisoned for debt, Phillis is forced to care for an infant son by working as a maid. She is forced to work in horrendous conditions, likely contributing to her death.
December 5, 1784 Wheatley dies.

Wheatley dies at the age of 31 in Boston. Her infant son dies 3 1/2 hours later.
2002 Wheatley named to list of Greatest African Americans.

Scholar Molefi Kete Asanta includes Wheatley in his list of the 100 Greatest African Americans.
2003 Wheatley included in memorial.

Wheatley is one of three women commemorated in the Boston Women's Memorial, a sculpture that can be found on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.






Educational Videos