Although the date and place of her birth are not documented, scholars believe that Phillis Wheatley was born in 1753 in West Africa, most likely in present-day Gambia. Wheatley was brought to British-ruled Boston, Massachusetts on July 11, 1761, on a slave ship called The Phillis. It was owned by Timothy Finch and captained by Peter Gwinn.
At the age of nine, she was sold to the wealthy Bostonian merchant and tailor John Wheatley, who bought the young girl as a servant for his wife Susanna. John and Susanna Wheatley named the young girl Phillis, after the ship that had brought her to America. She was given their last name of Wheatley, as was a common custom if any surname was used for slaves.