'Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land,
Taught my beknighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought not knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their color is a diabolic dye."
Remember Christians; Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
-Phyllis Wheatley's On Being Brought from Africa to America.
America's first African American poet, Phyllis Wheatley, was born in 1753 in Senegal, Africa. When she was seven years old, she was taken from Africa to the colonies of America and sold to John and Susannah Wheatley in Boston, Massachusetts. She was first going to be the attendent to Susannah as well as a servant, but instead she was raised as one of the Wheatley's children.
The Wheatley's taught Phyllis how to write and read English and at age 12, she was reading Latin and Greek classics and the bible. Phyllis wrote her first poem at age 13.
In 1770, Phyllis wrote a poem on evangelist George Whitefield's death. This turned her into a Boston sensation and in 1773, she published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, a collection of 39 of her poems. Most of them she wrote in heroic couplet and contained elegies. It was the first book by an African American to be published.
Eventually, Phyllis received her freedom, and in 1778, she married a free African American man. She died in poverty, but that wasn't the end of her influence. In the 1830's, abolitionists used her poetry as proof that slavery should be abolished.