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Phyllis Wheatley was one of the first American poets whose work is still known today. (There were many Native American poets, but most of their work was oral. And there were many poets in Central America, who may have written down their work, but Christian conquerors burned almost all of their books.)

Phillis Wheatley, an African-American poet

Phillis Wheatley

She was born free in Africa, probably in West Africa. When she was seven years old, she was kidnapped away from her family and sold into slavery. She came to the East Coast of north America on a slave ship. While she was a slave, she built a reputation as a poet. She visited London, and met George Washington.

When her enslaver died, Phyllis was twenty-five years old. She was freed. But because of racism, she and her husband found it difficult to earn their own living. They fell into poverty, and she died young.

Here’s one of her poems:

Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable [black] race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

More about Phyllis Wheatley

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