Jupiter Hammon - Writer, Poet

Jupitor Hammon Address to the Negroes in New York State 1806

Jupitor Hammon's Address to the Negroes in New York State, 1806

Jupiter Hammon (October 17, 1711 – before 1806) was a black poet who in 1761 became the first African-American writer to be published in the present-day United States. He published both poems and sermons.  Born into slavery, Hammon was never emancipated.  He was alive in 1790 at the age of 79, and died by 1806.  A devout Christian, he is considered one of the founders of African American literature.

Jupiter Hammon

Jupiter Hammon

Born into slavery in 1711 in a house now known as Lloyd Manor in Lloyd Harbor, NY (NY historical marker dated 1990), Hammon was held by four generations of the Lloyd family of Queens, New York.  His parents were both slaves owned by the Lloyds and  unlike most slaves, Hammon’s father, Opium, had learned to read and write. 

The Lloyds allowed Hammon to attend school, where like his father, he also learned to read and write as well.  As an adult, he worked for them as a domestic servant, clerk, farmhand, and artisan in the Lloyd family business.  He eventually came to share the religion of his masters and became a fervent Christian, like the Lloyds.  

His first published poem, "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," appeared as a broadside in 1761.  He published three other poems and three sermon essays. 

Although not emancipated, Hammon participated in new Revolutionary War groups such as the Spartan Project.  There on September 24, 1786, he delivered his "Address to the Negroes of the State of New York", also known as the "Hammon Address."  He was seventy-six years old and had spent his lifetime in slavery.  He said, "If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves."   He also said that, while he personally had no wish to be free, he did wish others, especially  “the young Negroes, were free.”

Title Page from a Jupiter Hammon publication

Title Page from a Jupiter Hammon publication

The speech draws heavily on Christian motifs and theology.  For example, Hammon said that black people should maintain their high moral standards because being slaves on Earth had already secured their place in heaven.  He promoted gradual emancipation as a way to end slavery.  Scholars think perhaps Hammon supported this plan because he believed that immediate emancipation of all slaves would be difficult to achieve.  New York Quakers, who supported abolition of slavery, published his speech.  It was reprinted by several abolitionist groups, including the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

In the two decades after the American Revolutionary War and creation of the new government, most northern states generally abolished slavery.  In the “Upper South”, so many slaveholders manumitted slaves that the proportion of free blacks among African Americans increased from less than one percent in 1790 to more than 10 percent by 1810.  In the country as a whole, by 1810 the number of free blacks was 186,446, or 13.5 percent of all African Americans. 

Hammon's speech and his poetry are often included in anthologies of notable African-American and early American writing.  Unlike Phillis Wheatley, also an American slave, who in 1773 had her collection of poems first published in London, England, Hammon was the first known African American to publish literature within the present-day United States.

 

Brought to you by Paris-based African American artist Ealy Mays

 

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