Alagi Yorro Jallow
Phillis Wheatley was not a Senegalese, as claimed by some Senegalese historians and traditional communicators as well as other Africanist scholars.
She was a Mandingo from the Gambia then called Senegambia. According to Michel Anderson’s account, all emphasize that the land from which Phillis was seized was around heavily indebted to the profession of farming for sustenance. Michel Anderson further quotes to describe the Mandingo as an African people whose chiefs of trade people have impacted Wheatley’s artistic understanding.
In short, Phillis Wheatley was a Mandingo from the Gambia seized into slavery.Born around 1753 in The Gambia, Africa, Phillis Wheatley was captured by slave traders and brought to America in 1761. Upon arrival, she was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts. Her first name Phillis was derived from the ship that brought her to America, “the Phillis.” Despite spending much of her life as a slave, Phillis Wheatley was the first African American and second woman (after Anne Bradstreet) to publish a book of poems.
Whitley’s owners educated her, and within 16 months of her arrival in America, she could read the Bible, Greek and Latin classics, and British literature. She also studied astronomy and geography. At age 14, Wheatley began to write poetry, publishing her first poem in 1767. Publication of “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield” in 1770, brought her great notoriety.
In 1773, with financial support from the English Countess of Huntingdon, Wheatley traveled to London with her owner’s son to publish her first collection of poems, poems on various subjects, religious and moral—the first book written by a black woman in America. It included a forward, signed by John Hancock and other Boston notables—as well as a portrait of Wheatley—all designed to prove that the work was indeed written by a black woman. John Wheatley, her owner, emancipated her shortly.