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Phillis Wheatley Peters: Overview

This guide is part of a project celebrating the anniversary year -- 2023 -- of Phillis Wheatley Peters's Poems. It is a joint project of TCU and the University of Georgia.

Who Was Phillis Wheatley Peters?

Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston from her African homeland in July 1761. Though only about seven or eight years old, she was transported with other captives aboard the ship Phillis as part of an ongoing push to make slavery central to the economies, politics, and daily life in North America. Purchased by a New England merchant, John Wheatley, and “given” to his wife Susanna, the young girl found herself far from her West African home, suddenly immersed in a foreign culture where--however benign the Wheatleys themselves may have viewed their relationship to the young girl--she was, in fact, enslaved. 

Though we cannot recover much of Phillis Wheatley’s personal or family history prior to what must have been a terrifying transatlantic journey, we do know reasons why she remarkably became, as a young adolescent, a celebrity author, first in her new “home” city of Boston, and, not long afterwards, internationally.

About the Project

This project honors Phillis Wheatley Peters and her legacies, and spotlights the learning power and the significance of literature in our lives. Through a partnership of the University of Georgia and TCU, this project also celebrates the efficacy of collaborative learning informed by a participatory vision of the humanities and the arts. Our codirectors, contributing team members, and many sponsoring groups and organizations have come together in shared learning throughout the 2023 anniversary year of Wheatley Peters’s Poems. Learn more at the project website.

2023 Events

March 22, 2023

Phillis Wheatley Peters in Material Memory

4pm ET; 3pm CT

Presented by American Antiquarian Society (AAS) archivists featuring Professor Sarah Robbins (Texas Christian University), Professor Barbara McCaskill (University of Georgia), Ashley Cataldo (AAS), and Elizabeth Watts Pope (AAS).

Register to watch this talk virtually.

April 3, 2023

Recovering the Life of Phillis Wheatley Peters, 'A WONDER of the Age Indeed'"

4:30pm ET; 3:30 CT

A Book Talk by Professor Vincent Carretta in celebration of a new and revised edition of his book, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage.

Register to watch this talk virtually.

April 4, 2023

Re-Reading a Life: Responding to Vincent Carretta's New Biography of Wheatley Peters

A Scholarly Roundtable

10am ET; 9am CT (90 minutes)

Featuring panelists Tara Bynum, University of Iowa, Keith Hughes, University of Edinburgh, George Elliott Clarke, University of Toronto, and Lenora Warren, Cornell University, and moderated by John Lowe, University of Georgia.

Register to watch this panel virtually.

Learn More


The Writings of Phillis Wheatley

This edition includes all of the known surviving writings of the poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), and are accompanied by an introduction to her life and times, as well as extensive textual and explanatory notes.

Phillis Wheatley Peters: Biography of a Genius in Bondage

Author Vincent Carretta details Wheatley's origins, upbringing, and how she gained her freedom. Carretta also writes about the role Wheatley played in the production, marketing, and distribution of her writing.

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

Published in London in 1773, this is Phillis Wheatley's first book of poetry.

The Age of Phillis

Level: High School. Imagines the life and times of Wheatley in verse.

Past Events 2023

February 16, 2023

University of Georgia Symposium on the Book

The Blood of Christians: Phillis Wheatley Peters and White Christianity

10am ET; 9am CT (90 mins)

Presented by Professor Kim Coles (University of Maryland) and co-convened by Professor Sujata Iyengar (University of Georgia), Professor Miriam Jacobson (University of Georgia), and Librarian Anne Meyers DeVine (University of Georgia).


Printing Early Modern Race: A Rare Books Workshop

2pm ET; 1pm CT (90 mins)

Presented by Professor Kim Coles (University of Maryland), Professor David Diamond (University of Georgia), Professor Miriam Jacobson (University of Georgia), Professor Sujata Iyengar (University of Georgia), and Librarian Anne Meyers DeVine (University of Georgia).


Phillis Wheatley Peters Biographical Timeline


  • Born in Africa.


  • Captured and transported to America in the slave ship Phillis. Arrived in America on July 11.
  • Sold to John Wheatley from Boston, Massachusetts to work as a maid for his wife, Susanna.
  • Named Phillis, for the ship that brought her to America.


  • Phillis Wheatley was taught to read and write by Susanna and her daughter, Mary Wheatley.


  • Thought to be the year of Phillis Wheatley’s first writings, motivated by her religious education by Susanna and John.

  • Potential first writings include:

    • Stongest candidate: a four-line poem written on the last page of the 1773 diary of the Congregationalist minister, Jeremy Belknap. Belknap identifies the poem as “Phillis Wheatley’s first Effort— A.D. 1765.”

    • A letter to the Rev. Mr. Occom, the Indian Minister; the missing poem “On the Death of the Rev. Dr. Sewell, when Sick, 1765” included in her 1772 “Proposals.”


  • Phillis Wheatley wrote "An Address to the Atheist" and "An Address to the Deist."
  • Published her first poem, "On Messrs Hussey and Coffin" in the newspaper, Newport Mercury.


  • Phillis Wheatley wrote "To the King's Most Excellent Majesty" praising King George III for repealing the Stamp Act.
  • Phillis Wheatley wrote “On Being Brought from Africa to America”, the poem for which she is best known today.


  • Wheatley became known for her poetry after writing a tribute, "An Elegiac Poem On the Death of that celebrated Divine, and eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned Mr. George Whitefield," to George Whitefield, a popular evangelist and chaplain of Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon.


  • Phillis Wheatley baptized on August 18, 1771


  • Wheatley defended her authorship in a trial, and was supported through attestation of her authorship by seventeen men in Boston, including John Hancock, John Ervin, Thomas Hutchinson, and Andrew Oliver.


  • Wheatley traveled to London where she published her first book, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" containing 39 poems, and financed by Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon. The first edition of Wheatley's book showed an engraving of Wheatley by Scipio Moorhead, a slave of John Moorhead.
  • Wheatley traveled back to America due to Susanna Wheatley's illness.
  • Wheatley was manumitted, but chose to continue to live with the Wheatleys.


  • Susanna Wheatley died March 3, 1774.


  • Wheatley wrote the poem, "To His Excellency, George Washington," praising Washington's heroism and in support of the Revolutionary War.


  • George Washington invited Phillis Wheatley to his home for a private reading of her poem, and to thank her for writing it.


  • John Wheatley died.
  • Phillis Wheatley married John Peters, a free black man, with whom she had three children.


  • Phillis Wheatley and John Peters left Boston and disappeared from public view for several years.

  • Phillis Wheatley continued to write, with hope of publishing a second book. Her "Propoals" were never published, and few of her other writings were discovered between 1776-1784.


  • Wheatley Peters wrote "An Elegy, Sacred to the Memory of the Great Divine, the Reverend and the Learned Dr. Samuel Cooper." Cooper was a pastor in the Brattle Square Church and was a supporter of the revolution.
  • Wheatley Peters readvertised the 1779 proposal for her second book, using the name Phillis Wheatley rather than Phillis Peters.
  • John Peters was incarcerated for unpaid debts.
  • Phillis Wheatley Peters found work in a boarding house.
  • Wheatley Peters died on December 5, at age 31.


  • Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley book published posthumously. 


  • Letters of Phillis Wheatley book published posthumously.

Credits: Phillis Wheatley Historical Society; VIncent Caretta