The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and compare the Black poet Jupiter Hammon. Specifically, it will discuss the significance of Jupiter Hammon and his work.
Jupiter Hammon was born a slave, sometime around 1720 (now thought to be around 1711). His owners were the Lloyd family who lived on Long Island, New York. While there is no record of his education, clearly the family helped him learn to read and write, and they trusted him with their most private information, including letting him handle some of their finances. It seems he may have been born around the same time as a Lloyd son, and may have been educated with him. "He was a dutiful and trusted servant, so highly esteemed by the members of the Lloyd family in his later years that they helped him to place his verses before the public" (Brawley).
He wrote several poems and later, after his death, they were complied into books of poetry that are still in print today. Hammon wrote consistently about religion, but he also wrote about slavery, and his feeling all slaves should be freed from bondage. While Hammon never gained his freedom, his master did instruct in his will that some of his slaves should be freed when they reached 28 years old, so he did influence his master concerning the issue of his own slaves.
Some of his most important selected works include "This was an Evening of Thought," his first poem published, "An Essay on the Ten Virgins," written in 1779, and "A Winter Piece," written after he moved to Connecticut, in 1782, and "An Evening's Improvement," written near the end of the Revolutionary War. Included in this booklet was an ode to his master, "The Kind Master and Dutiful Servant." His most important non-poetic work is "An Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York," which was published in 1787. He first presented it in a speech "to the members of the African Society in the City of New York on Sept. 24, 1786 [...] The address shows Hammon as feeling it his duty to bear slavery with patience but as strongly disapproving of the system and urging that young slaves be manumitted" (Brawley).
Probably the most important work written about Jupiter Hammon is the work by Oscar Wegelin, entitled "Jupiter Hammon, American Negro Poet: Selections from his Writings, and a Bibliography," written in 1915. There is also a newer work by Sondra A. O'Neale entitled "Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of African-American Literature." There are also several other lesser works with references to Hammon.
Jupiter Hammon is extremely significant to American literature and poetry because he was long considered to be the first published Black American author. Many historians gave this honor to Black poet Phillis Wheatley, who published her first book of poetry in 1773. However, Hammon's poem "This was An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ, with Penetential Cries: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro Belonging to Mr. Lloyd, of Queen's Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760,' was printed as a broadside in New York, evidently in 1761" (Brawley), which would date it at least 10 years before Wheatley's work. Today, while Lucy Terry, who wrote "Bar Fight" in 1746, has superceded Hammon as the first Black poet he is still the first Black man to publish poetry in the United States.
In his works, he was also the first Black author to encourage other African-Americans to create their own nation, and take their lives into their own hands.
Drawing upon the theology, religious rituals, and political rhetoric associated with the call for moral reformation, Hammon propounded a nationalist message to his black audience. He urged his fellows to rise from their wretchedness and maintain a virtuous Afro-American nation (Richards 124).
He felt if they fought against slavery and won their freedom, they could retain their own identity while still playing a viable part in American society. He wrote in his "Address to Negroes," "I think you will be more likely to listen to what is said, when you know it comes from a Negro, one of your own nation and colour, [...] or in saying any thing to you, but what he really thinks is your interest, and duty to comply with" (Richards 125).
It is interesting to note Hammon worked for freedom for other slaves,…