1753 – 1784
Phillis Wheatley couldn’t catch a break. Wrenched from her home in Africa at age seven, she was sold into slavery in America. Exceptionally bright, she learned to read and write in English at an early age and became the first published African-American poet at age 17. Her only book was printed in England and circulated in the New World. The white male establishment accused her of being a fraud even after having her bona fides approved by an august group of patriots. Thomas Jefferson was especially vitriolic in his criticism of Phillis and her poetry. (He even spelled her name wrong.) Clearly, he had a lot to lose if slaves were shown to be intellectually equal to whites. She was granted her freedom but was unable to earn a living from writing. Sadly, Philis died in poverty with her baby at age 31.