Prince, Lucy Terry

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Prince, Lucy Terry

c. 1730
August 21, 1821

The history of African-American poetry begins in 1746 with Lucy Terry Prince, who at the age of sixteen wrote a vivid poem in rhyming couplets describing a victorious Native American raid in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Prince's poem is the most complete contemporary account of the murder of two white families who resided in a section of town called the Bars. "Bars Fight, August 28, 1746" became part of Deerfield's oral tradition, remaining unpublished until 1855, when it appeared in a volume of local history. The poem may also have been sung as a ballad.

Prince was known in her community as a storyteller, and her home became a meeting place where people came to hear her orations. Prince's New England community also remembered her for two outstanding uses of oratorical skills. In one, she spoke for three hours before the Board of Trustees of Williams College in an ultimately un-successful plea for one of her sons to gain admission to the school. In the other, she defended herself before the U.S. Supreme Court in a land-claims case against a neighbor. Prince won the case and earned high praise from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase.

Lucy Terry was born in Africa and brought to New England as an infant slave. In 1756 she married Abijah Prince, a manumitted slave who then purchased his wife's freedom. The couple moved to Vermont, where Abijah had been given land, and their son, Cesar (one of six children), served in the American Revolution.

See also Poetry, U.S.


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

martha e. hodes (1996)