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The Trial of Phillis Wheatley: Published Play Depicts Flashpoint in American History


Scituate, MA -- (SBWIRE) -- 04/16/2014 -- They would ask: could a young African girl have written the poems they held in their hands? What would be the consequences if she had?

In 1772, a girl – barely eighteen – stood in a courtroom before a group of privileged white men, all from Boston and all from prominent families. She was a slave and she had written a sheaf of poetry that many called reminiscent of the genius of Alexander Pope. The men were set to make a decision on whether or not Phillis Wheatley was the true author of the poems as she claimed, or if she was lying.

‘The Trial of Phillis Wheatley’, a play from Ronald Wheatley, depicts what may have happened in the courtroom that day. As there are no written recordings of the proceedings, the play is a dramatic reenactment, and examines not only Phillis’ feelings and motivations, but also that of the men who stood as her judges and juries. Facing the test of overcoming their own prejudices, and embroiled in the turbulent environment of the day, the men were struck by the difficulty of the decision.

If they did not put their names to the attestation by Phillis Wheatley, the manuscript could not be published with her name on the cover.


On the eve of the American Revolution in the fall of 1772, eighteen year old Phillis Wheatley, the household slave of John and Susanna Wheatley was invited to appear before eighteen of Boston’s most prominent men in the Governor’s Council Chamber in Boston to defend the premise that she was the author of a collection of poems.

The so-called “jury” was comprised of the most prominent men in Boston. This was not a jury of her peers but rather one comprised of all white, all male, and largely middle-aged men. There is no transcript of that proceeding.

The Trial of Phillis Wheatley is a courtroom docudrama “depicting” what occurred in that room that day. The final verdict would change the course of American history.

As Ronald Wheatley explains, although much has been written about Phillis Wheatley, this play is truly unique in its detailing of the trial.

“None of the books written about Phillis examine the challenge she faced, standing before those wealthy white men,” says the author. “She could not have been in a less privileged position in that moment – a young slave girl, claiming to be a poetess. She knew they would not want to believe her. The odds were truly against her, and yet – she still rose to the occasion and defended her work.”

Since its original release, the play has won commendation from viewers. The published play holds a five star rating on Amazon and glowing reviews.

“This book has totally changed my view on literature and value of education. Instead of coming home after work and sitting down and watching movie after movie, my new desire is to read a good book. Thankfully, "The Trial of Phillis Wheatley", has turned that routine around for me. Now, I want to read more often than watch television, I now want to read more to further my knowledge on subjects like history,” wrote Ryan Clifford.

“Very interesting book written about a slave in a dark time of our countries history. It was set in a time when politicians ruled Boston Ma,” wrote Robert M. Harkins.

‘The Trial of Phillis Wheatley’ is available now: http://amzn.to/PSDBnj

About Ronald Wheatley
Ronald Wheatley is the author of the award winning historical novel "A Song of Africa," that was inspired by his experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria, West Africa. He is an attorney and student of history and a member of the Massachusetts Sons of the American Revolution. He served in Vietnam with the US Army's 1st Signal Brigade, 1967-1968.