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"Recovering the Lost Years of John Peters and Phillis Wheatley Peters" Public Program
Though the early years of Phillis Wheatley’s life are well-established, the details of her life after she became Phillis Peters upon her marriage to John Peters, a free Black shopkeeper in Boston, have been more difficult to discern. In this conversation, Henry Louis Gates Jr. will discuss with Cornelia Dayton her groundbreaking article, recently published in the New England Quarterly, which uses a cache of Essex County legal papers to shed light on this period of Wheatley Peters’s life. The documents reveal that when the couple left Boston in 1780, they moved to Middleton, Massachusetts, where John became a landowner on a farm where he had formerly been enslaved. A complicated array of racial, class, and gender conflicts—all evident in more than 120 legal documents—led to their eviction and return to Boston in 1784, shortly before Wheatley Peters’s untimely death. This conversation will not only explore the significance of this new information for Wheatley Peters’s story, but also the ways in which looking for information in unexpected sources can complicate and expand upon current understandings of freedom, race, and gender in the eighteenth century.

Nov 1, 2021 07:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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