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Poems on Various Subjects
Poems on Various Subjects
Poems on Various Subjects
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Poems on Various Subjects

Phillis Wheatley Peters, 1773

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Poems on Various Subjects
Phillis Wheatley Peters, 1773
WHEATLEY PETERS, Phillis (c.1753-1784). Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. London: Bell, 1773.

First edition of this landmark work, the first published book of poetry by an African American. Born in West Africa, Wheatley was kidnapped and enslaved as a young child and sold in 1761 to John and Susannah Wheatley in Boston. They chose the name "Phillis" after the ship on which the girl had endured the Middle Passage. The Wheatley family quickly recognized the Phillis's intellectual prowess and encouraged her studies in the classics. By age fourteen she had published her first poem in a newspaper. In 1773, Phillis travelled to London to oversee the publication of the present volume. She became a literary celebrity and it was in England that she became acquainted with the Countess of Huntington's circle of friends, which included Georgiana Shipley, the original owner of the present volume. (Whether the pair ever met remains a matter of conjecture, however.) Soon after her return to Boston in the fall of 1773, the Wheatley family allowed Phillis her freedom. In 1778 she married John Peters, a free person of color, and endeavored to publish a second volume of poetry while caring for her babies. However, likely due to the economic collapse following the Revolutionary War, this effort proved unrealized before her untimely death in 1784. Wegelin 432; Sabin 10316.

Octavo (175 x 110 mm). Engraved portrait frontispiece (light offsetting; scattered few spots). Contemporary speckled calf (rebacked with most of original spine laid down, repair to tips, small repaired chip to rear free endpaper). Provenance: Georgiana Shipley, c.1755-1806 (painter and arts parton; fourth daughter of Bishop Jonathan Shipley, who was a friend of Benjamin Franklin; signature dated the year of publication, 1773) – Elizabeth Bartholomew (early signature).

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Heather Weintraub
Heather Weintraub Specialist, Books, Manuscripts, & Archives

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