Wheatley in 1773

Wheatley opening edge

The opening edge of the first edition of Wheatley's poems.

Wheatley, Phillis. Poems on various subjects: religious and moral. London: A. Bell, 1773

Phillis Wheatley


Wheatley gutter

Gutter showing the join of cover and endpapers.

This book, published 1773, is a collection of 39 poems written by Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American female poet. On the first page we see a large portrait of Wheatley herself, surrounded by a caption which reads “Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley, Boston.” She is depicted with pen in hand. This edition is the oldest, showing flexes to the rigid brown leather cover that indicates having been dipped in a liquid (Image 1). The cover is plain with stains throughout, yet the spine is renewed, with golden strips and words written on a velvet-red, cloth-like piece. The book is brittle and seems likely to split if opened past 90 degrees. Loose threads hold the fragile, stained, and almost-impossible-to-flick-through pages together (Image 2). The inside of the front cover shows glue marks, indicating a missing page. Throughout the rest of the book, pencil marks and liquid stains are clear, suggesting deep engagement with Wheatley’s poems. The use of the long “s” is also noticed throughout. Judged by the lack of analytical annotation, the book was not used for education purposes, but intended for educated people who liked to read poetry in their free time.


Mohamed Ali, Class of 2022