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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Jupiter Hammon
(1711-1806?)


With the important exception of Lucy Terry, whose “Bars Fight” (included in this anthology) seems to have been well known, Jupiter Hammon was probably the first known, published black American versifier. His Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, With Penetential Cries, a series of twenty-two quatrains, appeared as a broadside in 1760.

Hammon was born a slave on the Manor House estate of Henry Lloyd at Lloyd’s Neck (or Queen’s Village) on Long Island, New York, where he and other slave children were offered a rudimentary education at a school built on the premises. Biographical facts about him are scarce, but it seems clear that at an early age Hammon became religiously oriented and may have done some Christian exhorting to whatever black and white audiences he could gather. When he was twenty-two years old, he purchased a Bible from his master for seven shillings and sixpence. All of his known writings in prose and verse are exclusively pietist.

When Henry Lloyd died in 1763, Hammon became the property of Joseph Lloyd, a patriot who was obliged to flee encircling British troops and race with his family and slaves to Stamford and later Hartford, Connecticut. There Hammon published three more verses, two of them appended to prose sermonizings. At Hartford, too, he published “An Essay on Ten Virgins,” advertised in The Connecticut Courant for December 14, 1779; as no text has yet been found, it is not known if this piece is prose or verse. Composed originally at “Queen’s Village, 24th. Sept. 1786,” while he was a slave to John Lloyd, Junior, Hammon’s prose Address to the Negroe: In the State of New-York was printed in 1787 in New York and reprinted the same year in Philadelphia and again in 1806 in New York. He is also thought to have written a set of verses that celebrated the 1782 visit of Prince William Henry (King William IV of England, 1830–1837) to the Lloyd Manor on Long Island. These verses are not known to exist today in manuscript.

Hammon’s sermons, written in the revolutionary and post-revolutionary eras, retain an acute consciousness of the gathering political significance of blacks in the period. He mentions the deaths of blacks in the War for Independence, draws upon the jeremiad in order to call for a virtuous black nation within the American nation, and speaks of petitions for freedom on the part of black slaves. Despite the seemingly acquiescent tone of much of his writing, his sermons mount a firm appeal for black moral and social autonomy.

On every single one of Hammon’s nine published pieces of prose and verse, acknowledgment—hardly incidental—is made of his being a servant to three generations of the Lloyd family. Indeed, on several of his pieces it is noted that his verse or his prose was printed “with the assistance of his friends,” presumably white friends. Thus receiving the approbation of whites and repeatedly urging a resigned black reconciliation of slavery with unthreatening Christianity, it is not at all surprising that Hammon was permitted to publish as much as he did.

Our sense that Hammon’s sermons, directed primarily toward blacks, are overheard and even managed by white patrons indicates an important problem in early African American writing. Most writing by blacks in the revolutionary period was published under headnotes that indicated white sanction. Within this context, the reader must decide carefully how to weigh the frequent appeals for liberty and freedom that appear even in such a writer as Hammon. The complex weighing of meanings that such terms assume in the revolutionary rhetoric of white political writers becomes even more complicated in the discourse of blacks.

William H. Robinson
Rhode Island College

Phillip M. Richards
Colgate University



Texts
In the Heath Anthology
An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries (1760)
An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly [sic], Ethiopian Poetess, in Boston, Who Came from Africa at Eight Years of Age, and Soon Became Acquainted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1778)

Other Works



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Links

A Slave and a Poet
http://www.lihistory.com/4/hs423a.htm
  A biography, photos, and manuscript scans, provided by the Long Island history site.

An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York
http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/readex/20400.html
  The electronic text of this primary document.

Secondary Sources





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