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Wheatley, Phillis  

John C. Shields

poet and cultivator of the epistolary writing style, was born in Gambia, Africa, probably along the fertile lowlands of the Gambia River. She was enslaved as a child of seven or eight and sold in Boston to John and Susanna Wheatley on 11 July 1761. The horrors of the Middle Passage likely contributed to her persistent trouble with asthma. The Wheatleys apparently named the girl, who had nothing but a piece of dirty carpet to conceal her nakedness, after the slaver, the Phillis, that transported her.The Wheatleys were more kindly toward Phillis than were most slaveowners of the time, permitting her to learn to read. The poet in Wheatley soon began to emerge. She published her first poem on 21 December 1765 in the Newport Mercury when she was about twelve The poem On Messrs Hussey and Coffin relates how these two gentlemen narrowly escaped drowning ...