Brief Description: 7 yo African girl is kidnapped and sold into slavery. She is encouraged by her Boston owners to become literate and becomes the first published African American woman.
Historical Era: 18th Century
Date Range: 1761-1784
Keywords: African American Slavery, American Revolutionary War, Crispus Attucks, George Washington, John Hancock, Phyllis Wheatley, Reverand George Whitefield, the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Stamp Act
Original Publication: 2003
Suitable for Grades: 3-7th
Target Audience: Picture Book, Middle Grade
This nonfiction picture book biography portrays the life of Phillis Wheatley. Captured in Senegambia and enslaved as a seven-year-old girl, Phillis was purchased by the Wheatleys, named after the slave ship that brought her across the ocean, and put to work as a house servant in Boston. Susannah Wheatley is portrayed to be a kindly woman, who quickly took an interest in a precocious Phillis. Not only could Phillis quickly speak, read and write in English, she could also read and write in Greek and Latin, often with more skill than white girls her age. She demonstrated a particular affinity to poetry. After writing some poems, Phillis was paraded about white women’s social circles, which sometimes led to awkward moments. Susannah Wheatley advocated for Phillis and tried to get her poetry published, but was unable to in America. It wasn’t until Phillis went to England that she was able to become the first African American woman to publish a book. Upon Phillis’s return to America, the Wheatleys gave her manumission papers, thus freeing her from enslavement.
Phillis lived in Boston during an exciting time. Many pre-revolutionary events are depicted in the book’s text and in the illustrations by Paul Lee. Back matter includes an epilogue which relates the later events in Phillis’s life, and the author’s and illustrator’s notes. More can be learned about Philis Wheatley from the National Women’s History Museum or the National Park Service.