The Phillis Wheatley Story


The story of Phillis Wheatley is one of the most remarkable among many remarkable stories from the history of slavery - and it remains largely untold.

Phillis Wheatley was an intelligent, gifted young African captured in Senegal and sold into slavery to a Boston family in 1761. At the time of her arrival in the Commonwealth, she was probably about 14 years old.

Her talents are soon recognized by the teenage daughter of the house, Mary Wheatley, who teaches her to read and write. Phillis blossoms, eventually writing some beautiful poetry. But there is a powerful force tugging Phillis in the other direction - Deborah, an older slave, who takes Phillis under her wing. Deborah has learned to play a double game - subservient to her masters on the surface, but privately despising them and refusing to believe anything good about them. She warns Phillis not to be fooled, not to show her learning or her intelligence. Meanwhile, Mary's father, John Wheatley, is embroiled in the turbulent politics of the day. There is rage in the streets, stirred up by Sam Adams and his followers. Nathaniel, Mary's brother, is seduced by Adams' rhetoric, and runs with the rebels.  He becomes a casualty of a terrible incident when panicky British soldiers open fire on a crowd - the so-called 'Boston Massacre'. Wheatley is shattered, buries himself in his work, and blames himself for the death of his son. When Phillis writes a poem in Nathaniel's memory, and Mary shows it proudly to her father, Wheatley pours all his energy into seeing that the poem is printed. This leads to the climax of the drama, when both Phillis and Wheatley make their choices according to their deepest convictions and highest principles, risking everything in the process.

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