Jupiter Hammon was the first Black poet and writer in the United States, with his first work published at the age of 50 in 1761. Hammon was born on this day in 1711, and was enslaved for his entire life.
Hammon was born to his enslaved parents in Long Island, New York, living under the ownership of the Lloyd family of Queens. Hammon’s father could read and write as the Lloyds allowed their slaves to have access to formal education, which passed down to Hammon.
During the great Christian revival of the 18th Century, Hammon embraced the faith along with the Lloyds and it informed much of his writing. His first work, 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, was first published in 1761.
It was nearly two decades before Hammon published another piece. Some accounts place the work, “An Address To Phillis Wheatley,” who was the first Black woman to have her poetry published. According to historians, Hammon was concerned that Wheatley’s work was moving away from Christian concerns.
Because of Hammon’s writing and speaking ability, he served as a preacher for the slaves for several generations. Another prominent moment in Hammon’s public career took place on September 24, 1786 during the first meeting of the African Society in New York. While Hammon himself did not pine for freedom, he said in the “Hammon Address” that he wished “young Negroes were free.”
Hammon lived over 90 years, passing near or around 1806, although records of his passing weren’t available. He is buried in an unmarked grave in the Long Island region where he lived.
In 2013, University of Texas at Arlington doctoral student Julie McCown discovered an unpublished work by Hammon that written in 1786 in perfect condition. It was thought that Hammon may have other hidden works as well.
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