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Hammon, Jupiter

Hammon, Jupiter

c. 1806

Poet and preacher Jupiter Hammon was born on Long Island, New York, and raised in slavery to the Lloyd family. Little is known about his personal circumstances; scholars speculate that he attended school and was permitted access to his master's library. He is known to have purchased a Bible from his master in 1773. A favored slave in the Lloyd household, he worked as a servant, farmhand, and artisan. In early 1761 Hammon published the first poem by a black person to appear in British North America, titled "An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen's Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760." When British troops invaded Long Island, Hammon fled with the Lloyd family to Hartford, where he remained for the duration of the Revolutionary War. His second extant poem, "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," was published there in 1778. In 1779 a work called "An Essay on Ten Virgins" was advertised, but no copy of it remains. Hammon's sermon, "A Winter Piece: Being a Serious Exhortation, with a Call to the Unconverted; and a Short Contemplation on the Death of Jesus Christ," to which is appended the seventeen-quatrain verse, "A Poem for Children, with Thoughts on Death," appeared in Hartford in 1782. Hammon returned to Oyster Bay, Long Island, later that year, and a second prose work, "An Evening's Improvement, Shewing the Necessity of Beholding the Lamb of God," which concludes with "A Dialogue, Entitled, the Kind Master and the Dutiful Servant," was published in 1786. Hammon spoke to members of the African Society in New York on September 24, 1786. The text of that speech, "An Address to the Negroes of the State of New York," was printed in New York early in 1787.

Hammon's poems follow a strict, mechanical rhyme scheme and meter, and, like his sermons, exhort the reader to seek salvation by obeying the will of God. He appears to have extended this notion of Christian piety to his domestic situation and refused to speak out in public against slavery. However, even as he urged African Americans to "obey our masters," he questioned whether slavery was "right, and lawful, in the sight of God." "I do not wish to be free," he said at age seventy-five, "yet I should be glad, if others, especially the young negroes were to be free." The exact date of his death, and the place of his burial, are not known.

See also Poetry, U.S.; Wheatley, Phillis


Kaplan, Sidney, and Emma Nogrady Kaplan. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution 17701800. Revised edition. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989.

Ransom, Samuel A., Jr. America's First Negro Poet: The Complete Works of Jupiter Hammon of Long Island. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1970. Includes Oscar Wegelin, "Biographical Sketch of Jupiter Hammon" (1915) and Vernon Loggins, "Critical Analysis of the Works of Jupiter Hammon" (1900).

quandra prettyman (1996)

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