Phillis Wheatley, was the first African-American writer to publish a book in the United States. She was born in Senegal and arrived in the United States in 1761. Wheatley was named after the ship that brought her (Phillis) and the merchant who bought her (Wheatley). Within 15 months she had mastered English. By 1765, she had taught herself to write at the age of
Her first book of poems, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published in 1773 and was the first book published in the U.S. by an African American. Wheatley was questioned in court in 1780 to prove she was knowledgeable enough to write her poems and had to recite texts from Virgil and Milton.
Phillis Wheatley used her poetry to fight against the inequality encouraged by slavery. Anti-slavery proponents used Wheatley to prove that no race was superior to another.
This portrait is based on an engraving by an unidentified author in 1773. The engraving resides in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.