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Sat, 10.17.1711

Jupiter Hammon, a poetic pioneer

Jupiter Hammon

Jupiter Hammon a Black poet and one of the first published black writers in America, was born on this date in 1711.

Hammon served several generations of the Lloyd family on Long Island, New York. He had been a slave his entire life, allowed to attend school, and his formal education influenced his development as a poet. Like his masters, Hammon was a devout Christian, and was influenced by the religious revivals taking place in 18th century New England.

His writing reflects his deep spirituality, and his first published poem "An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries," was written on Christmas Day, 1760, and published as a broadside in early 1761, making it the first piece of literature published in the United States by a person of African descent. His second extant piece of poetry, published 17 years after the first, honors Phyllis Wheatley. Hammon never mentions himself in the poem, but it appears that in choosing Wheatley as a subject, he was acknowledging their common bond.

He also wrote an Address to the Negroes of the State of New York before their African Society on September 24, 1786. In this speech, Jupiter Hammon expressed his opinions on slavery most clearly. Although as an individual, he claimed he did "not wish to be free," he did add that he believed slavery was unjust, and would be "glad if others, especially the young Negroes, were free.” Hammon apparently remained a slave until his death. His poetry is still often anthologized, in recognition of his role as a founder of the African- American literary tradition.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
ISBN 0-85229-633-0

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