Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jupiter Hammon, African-American poet

It is the birthday of poet Jupiter Hammon (1711), who was the first African-American writer to be published in America. His broadside, An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries (1760) was published in Hartford, Connecticut. It reflects his deeply held religious beliefs.

Hammon was a slave all his life, and apparently was content though he longed for emancipation for younger blacks in America. He lived with the Henry Lloyd family in the manor house at Lloyd Neck, Long island, New York, and was educated in the household with the Lloyd children.

Evidently his education went well beyond the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Hammon was respected for his prowess as a negotiator and for his honesty. He was frequently dispatched to New York City to negotiate deals in the family's mercantile business. When the patriarch died in 1763, Hammon went to live with the son, Joseph Lloyd, a patriot during the Revolutionary War.

Hammon also became a spiritual leader in the African American community. At the age of 76, he delivered his An Address to the Negroes of the State of New York (1786), in which he said, "If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves." Though he said he had no wish to be free, he wished for younger blacks to be free. Hammon advocated gradual emancipation to end slavery. Abolitionist groups reprinted his speech and widely distributed it.

Hammon also wrote An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly (1778), An Essay on the Ten Virgins (1779), A Winter Piece (1782), and An Evenings Improvement (circa 1806). Scholars believe he also wrote some verses about the visit of Prince William Henry to the Lloyd Manor House in 1782 but they have never been found.

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