Phillis Wheatley’s Poems


Phillis Wheatley was a literary prodigy who, in 1773, aged about 19, visited London to promote her poetry collection. She had been born in Africa, enslaved as an eight-year-old and taken to Boston, Massachusetts. Hosted by the Abolitionist Granville Sharp during her London visit, Wheatley secured her freedom soon after returning to Boston. Because she was still enslaved during her visit to London, the writer Ignatius Sancho dubbed her ‘Genius in bondage’.

Wheatley’s lyrical, Romantic poetry is typical of the later 18th century. Her verses are rarely overtly political, but they include this claim to equality, radical for its time: ‘Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, / May be refin’d, and join th’angelic train’.

What poems are digitised here?

  • ‘On being brought from Africa to America’ (p. 18)
  • ‘On Imagination’ (pp. 65–68)
  • ‘To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for North America, &c.’ (pp. 73–75)
  • ‘To S. M. a young African Painter, on seeing his Works’ (pp. 114–115)

Full title:
Phillis Wheatley, Poems on various subjects, religious and moral
1773, London
Printed book
Phillis Wheatley
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Abolition of the slave trade and slavery in Britain

Article by:
Professor John Oldfield
Travel, colonialism and slavery, Politics and religion

Towards the end of the 18th century, a movement emerged calling for an end to the slave trade and, later, slavery itself. Professor John Oldfield traces the road to abolition from the 1780s to the 1830s, highlighting the impacts of grass-roots organisation, leadership, Black resistance and pro-slavery interests.

Voices in the campaign for abolition

Article by:
Brycchan Carey
Travel, colonialism and slavery, Politics and religion

From the mid 18th century, Africans and people of African descent – many of them former slaves – began to write down their stories. Brycchan Carey describes these writings and assesses their role in the abolition of slavery.

African writers and Black thought in 18th-century Britain

Article by:
S I Martin
Travel, colonialism and slavery, Language and ideas, Politics and religion

By 1780, Britain had a Black population of at least 20,000 people. S I Martin describes how four writers, taken from Africa as children and sold into slavery, grew up to write works that challenged British ideas about race, called for African brotherhood and demanded the abolition of the slave trade.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African

Created by: Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho used the medium of letters to record his thoughts on many of the major political, economic and ...


Created by: Aphra Behn

Oroonoko overview Oroonoko is a short novel, styling itself ‘a true history’, set in the English colony ...