Friday, September 17, 2021

Dayton on Phillis Wheatley's Lost Years

Credit: NYPL
Sometimes when you’re a legal historian just doing your job you turn up something unexpected and wonderful.  Cornelia H. Dayton, University of Connecticut, was minding her business, reading the records of every contested will case in colonial Massachusetts, when she came across one with an appellant by the name of Peters.  His wife was never mentioned by name but turned out to be Phillis Wheatley, the celebrated African-born poet, manumitted by her owner in the 1770s.  Wheatley’s life after her marriage to John Peters in 1778 has been quite obscure–until Professor Dayton discovered over 120 documents generated by litigation over a bequest in Peters’s former owner's will.  The result is the just-published Lost Years Recovered: John Peters and Phillis Wheatley Peters in Middleton,” New England Quarterly 94 (September 2021): 309-351.

Professor Dayton has won the Walter Muir Whitehill Prize of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts for the article.  She will discuss it in the Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar of the Massachusetts Historical Society on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, from 5:15PM - 6:30PM.

–Dan Ernst