The Poems of Phillis Wheatley

March 29, 2023

Thy various works, imperial queen, we see
How bright their forms! How deck’d with pomp by thee!
Thy wond’rous acts in beauteous order stand,
And all attest how potent is thine hand…

                From "On Imagination"

The Booth Family Center for Special Collections is celebrating Women’s History Month with the poetry of Phillis Wheatley.

Phillis Wheatley book of poems
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
Phillis Wheatley
Boston, 1773
Phillis Wheatley, portrayed in Revue des Colonies
Phillis Wheatley
Lemercier, Bénard et Cie, lithographer
from the journal Revue des Colonies, January, 1837. University Art Collection 2020.1.1

One of the most famous poets of the 18th century, Phillis Wheatley was born sometime around 1753 in Gambia. Stolen from her home by slave traders and enslaved by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, she was named Phillis for the ship that brought her to the colonies. Educated by Susanna Wheatley, Phillis began publishing poetry around age 12.

Her first book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in 1773 to wide acclaim. Wheatley was one of only two or three women published in the American colonies at the time, and the first enslaved person to be published. The Wheatley family manumitted Phillis in 1774 and she continued to write for another decade until her death in 1784. 

A first edition of Poems on Various Subjects, generously loaned by Emeritus Professor Paul F. Betz, and a French lithograph portrait of Wheatley that is considered to be one of only two accepted portraits of her, are currently on display on the 5th floor of Lauinger Library outside the Booth Family Center of Special Collections.









Phillis Wheatley poem "Hymn to the Morning"
"An Hymn to the Morning" from Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

--Jay Sylvestre, Rare Books Curator