Jupiter Hammon

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Hammon's "Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York", 1806

Jupiter Hammon, a founder of African-American literature, was born into slavery in 1711 at the Lloyd Manor in Long Island, New York.[1] [2] In 1761 Hammon published his first poem, "An Evening Thought. [sic] Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries," and at the age of forty-nine became the first African American poet published in North America.[1] Hammon was a well-known and well respected Christian slave preacher and clerk-bookkeeper which aided in the wide circulation of his slavery poems. As a devoted Christian evangelist, Hammon used his biblical foundation to publicly launch an assault against the institution of slavery.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Details about Jupiter Hammon's life are buried in the unaddressed history of slavery in the Northern U.S states.[4] As such, the facts surrounding Hammon's personal life are limited or non existent. Opium and Rose, slaves purchased by Henry Llody are believed to be the parents of Jupiter Hammon.[4] They are the first set of male and female slaves on record in the Lloyd Papers that continually served the Lloyd family after their purchase.[4] Hammon served under the Lloyd family his entire life, having worked under four generations of Llody slave masters.[4] The Lloyds allowed Hammon to receive a rudimentary education through the SPG system in exchange for his non combative and cooperative attitude.[5][4] As such, Hammon's ability to read and write aided his slave masters in their commercial businesses, which in turn supported methods of institutionalized slavery.[4] Hammon's goal was to take advantage of the literary skills his slave masters had him obtain, by exhibiting a level of intellectual awareness through literature.[4] In doing so, he could create literature layered in metaphors and symbols, providing Hammon a safe place to speak about his feelings of slavery.[4]

Literary works[edit]

"An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries" was Jupiter Hammon's first published poem.[6] It was composed on December 25th 1760 and appeared as a broadside in 1761.[6] The printing and publishing of this poem recognized Jupiter Hammon as the first black published author.[7]

Eighteen years passed before his second work appeared in print, "An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley."[7] Hammon wrote the poem while Henry Lloyd had temporarily moved himself and the slaves he owned to Hartford, Connecticut, during the Revolutionary War.[8] It was around this time Phillis Wheatley published her first poem, historically recognizing her as the first published black female author.[9] Hammon never met Wheatley, but was a great admirer.[8] His dedication poem to her contained twenty-one rhyming quatrains, each accompanied by a related Bible verse.[10] Hammon believed his poem would encourage Wheatley along her Christian journey.[8]

In 1778 Jupiter Hammon went on to publish "The Kind Master and Dutiful Servant," a poetical dialogue, followed by "A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death" in 1782.[8] These works set the tone for Hammon's "An Address to Negros in the State of New York."[7] At the inaugural meeting of the African Society on September 24, 1786, Hammon delivered what became known as the "Hammon Address" to the Negroes of the State of New-York."[10] He was seventy-six years old and had spent his lifetime in slavery.[11] In his address he told the crowd, "If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves."[11] He also said that while he personally had no wish to be free, he did wish others, especially "the young negroes, were free."[11] Hammon's speech draws heavily on Christian motifs and theology, stating that Black people should maintain their high moral standards because "being slaves on Earth had already secured their place in heaven."[8] Scholars believe Hammon supported gradual emancipation as a way to end slavery, believing that the immediate emancipation of all slaves would be difficult to achieve.[8] [12] New York Quakers who supported the abolition of slavery published Hammon's speech, and it was then reprinted by several abolitionist groups, including the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.[12]

Hammon's full body of work consists of eight publishing, four poems and four prose, all consisting of religious content. [7] "An Address to Negros in the State of New York" was Hammon's last literary work and what is perceived to be his most impactful.[7] It is believed that Jupiter Hammon died within or before the year 1806.[8] Though his death was not recorded, it is assumed that Hammon was buried separately from the Lloyd's on the Lloyd family property in an unmarked grave.[8]

Recent findings[edit]

While researching the writer, UT Arlington doctoral student Julie McCown stumbled upon a previously unknown poem written by Hammon stored in the Manuscripts and Archives library at Yale University. The poem, dated 1786, is described by McCown as a 'shifting point' in Jupiter Hammon's worldview surrounding slavery.[13]

Works[edit]

Title page, Jupiter Hammon's "An Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York" first edition 1787

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • The Collected Works of Jupiter Hammon: Poems and Essays ed. Cedrick May. University of Tennessee Press, 2017

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Berry, Faith (2001). From Bondage to Liberation. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. p. 50. ISBN 0-8264-1370-6.
  2. ^ Rollins, Charlemae (1965). Famous American Negro Poets. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0396051294.
  3. ^ O'Neal, Sondra (1993). Jupiter Hammon and The Biblical Beginnings of African American Literature. The American Theological Library Association and The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-2479-5.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h O'Neal, Sondra (1993). Jupiter Hammon and The Biblical Beginnings of African American Literature. The American Theological Library Association and The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-2479-5.
  5. ^ Berry, Faith (2001). From Bondage to Liberation. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. p. 50. ISBN 0-8264-1370-6.
  6. ^ a b "An Evening Thought". University of Virginia Library. 1761. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d e Berry, Faith (2001). From Bondage to Liberation. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. p. 50. ISBN 0-8264-1370-6.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h O'Neal, Sondra (1993). Jupiter Hammon and The Biblical Beginnings of African American Literature. The American Theological Library Association and The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-2479-5.
  9. ^ Rollins, Charlemae (1965). Famous American Negro Poets. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0396051294.
  10. ^ a b Jupiter, Hammon,; Paul, Royster (editor), (22 September 1787). "An Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York (1787)".
  11. ^ a b c "An address to the negroes in the state of New-York". University of Virginia Library. Archived from the original on 28 November 2009. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
  12. ^ a b "Gale Schools – Black History Month – Literature – An Address to the Negroes". Archived from the original on 11 July 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
  13. ^ "Forgotten Poem by First African-American Writer Found".