Phyllis Wheatley is a name not known well enough. Not only was she a poet and the third woman to publish in the United States, but she accomplished all this while enslaved.
The wrong Boston Market
Around 1760, she was seized from West Africa which is likely the region now known as Senegal or Gambia. She and her fellows were deemed unfit for fieldwork for various reasons. In her case, the captain thought her sickly. When they arrived in Boston, he was eager to sell her before she died.
Here fortune at least had the decency to not be an absolute jackass. John Wheatley, a well-known merchant and tailor, purchased her as a domestic slave for his wife Suzanna. They named her Phillis, after the ship that had transported her. Great. She totally wanted that reminder.
Phillis proved to be exceptionally intelligent and in less than a year-and-a-half, she could read English, Greek, and Latin. Wow. Suzanna favored her greatly so Phillis didn’t become a domestic slave. Instead, the Wheatley tutored her and encouraged her to study all the things.
Phillis began writing poetry at the age of 14 and published her first poem at the age of 16. It was lauded by society. When she and Suzanna went in search of a publisher for her first volume of poetry, all the American publishers were too chicken or bigoted to do it.
Seriously? Across the ocean?
Phillis had to go all the way to England to find a patron and publisher for her work. The book had a page dedicated to proving the volume had been written by her. You know, because it was the 18th-century.
Her work was praised, loved, and held up by abolitionists as proof of their cause. It was shortly after this that Phillis was freed.