Black American Poets and Dramatists: Before the Harlem Renaissance

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Jupiter Hammon

1711-c. 1800

JUPITER HAMMON is no longer credited as the first black poet in America (a poem by Lucy Terry evidently predates the earliest of his works), but he is still the first black American to write a significant amount of poetry and prose. He was born in slavery on October 3, 1711, and was one of the many slaves residing with the wealthy landowner and slave trader Henry Lloyd at his manor house (then called Queen's Village) in Oyster Bay, Long Island. His father appears to have been a rebellious slave named Opium, and his mother was probably a slave named Rose, who was sold when Jupiter was a young boy.

Hammon was born around the same time as John Lloyd, Jr., a younger son of Henry Lloyd, and may have received private education with him. In 1730 Hammon nearly died of gout, and the extraordinary efforts made to save his life testify to his value to the Lloyds. Three years later Hammon experienced a religious awakening from Bible readings and attendance of Congregational and Anglican services on Long Island and in Connecticut. At some point he began preaching to fellow blacks and lecturing to both black and white audiences. Although he may have written several more works than we now have, his earliest known published work was the poem An Evening Thought, a broadside issued on Christmas of 1760. It was once thought to be the earliest black American poem, until the discovery of Lucy Terry 's "Bar Fight" (written in 1746 but not published until 1893).

The Lloyds, supporters of the rebel cause, were forced to flee at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War when British troops occupied their manor. They moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Hammon's literary work flourished. In 1778 he issued a poem dedicated to Phillis Wheatley, the young black slave poet; in 1779 a work entitled An Essay on the Ten Virgins was published, but no copies seem to survive; and in 1782 appeared a prose work, a sermon entitled A Winter Piece. A poem commemorating the visit of Prince William (later William IV) to the Lloyd manor house was apparently also written in 1782, but it has not come to light. In 1784 he delivered a lecture, An Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York

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Black American Poets and Dramatists: Before the Harlem Renaissance
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Black American Poets and Dramatists - Before the Harlem Renaissance *
  • Contents *
  • User's Guide vi
  • The Life of the Author vii
  • Introduction xi
  • William Stanley Braithwaite 1878-1962 1
  • William Wells Brown 14
  • Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr. 25
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar 40
  • Jupiter Hammon 54
  • Frances E. W. Harper 66
  • George Moses Horton 79
  • James Weldon Johnson 91
  • Oscar Micheaux 106
  • Phillis Wheatley 119
  • Albery Allson Whitman 133
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