Admired by George Washington, ridiculed by Thomas Jefferson, and read far and wide, Phillis Wheatley led one of the most extraordinary American lives. Seized in West Africa and forced into slavery as a child, she was sold to a merchant family in Boston, where she became a noted poet at a young age. Mastering the Bible, Greek and Latin translations, and the works of Pope and Milton, she composed elegies for local elites, celebrated political events, praised warriors, and used her verse to variously lampoon, question, and assert the injustice of her enslaved condition. Her verses shook up racial etiquette and used familiar forms to create bold new meanings. She demonstrated a complex but crucial fact of the times: that the American Revolution both strengthened and limited Black slavery. In this new biography, the historian David Waldstreicher offers the fullest account to date of Wheatley’s life and works.
David Waldstreicher is a professor of early and nineteenth-century America at the CUNY Graduate Center.
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