| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
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
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.
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.
Rhode Island College
Phillip M. Richards
In the Heath Anthology
An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries
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
There are no Cultural Objects for this author.
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.
A Slave and a Poet
A biography, photos, and manuscript scans, provided by the Long Island history site.
An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York
The electronic text of this primary document.