Slavery in the United States lasted for about 400 years. During this time period, there were little to no opportunities for the enslaved. Stories of black men and women who overcame these disadvantages and created their own fortune serve as a source of inspiration for the younger generation. A great example of this is shown by the life of Jupiter Hammon. Born into slavery in the year 1711, Jupiter Hammon created his legacy out of the few opportunities that he was presented with. His parents were part of the first set of slaves that worked at Lloyd’s manor, which is situated in Long Island, New York. Here, Jupiter learned to read and write which was a skill that his masters insisted that he should possess. In adulthood, Jupiter Hammon took on many roles in the household. Not only was he a servant in the house and on the farm, but he also assisted with the family’s merchant business. Henry Lloyd praised Jupiter for his effective negotiating skills and the ability to quickly close a deal.
Jupiter Hammon became a devout Christian and he openly showcased his faith in his writing. His first publication titled,
“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 published in the broadside during the 1760s. The broadside was a large piece of paper, printed on one side, that was similar to a modern newspaper. In this poem, he outlined that in order for the slaves to receive God’s salvation, they had to possess high moral values despite being enslaved.
His second publication was titled, “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley.” This poem was created during the Revolutionary War, which took place eighteen years after his first work. It served as an outlet for Hammon’s thoughts and opinions when from his point of view, he perceived Phillis Wheatley turning away from her faith in favor of pagan principles which was displayed in her writing. Within Hammon’s poem were twenty-one rhyming quatrains which he then connected to specific bible verses. He utilized these scriptures to implore Wheatley to seek forgiveness and to reestablish her Christian faith. Following these publications, Hammon went on to publish two additional poems and three essays.
In addition to being a published author and poet, Jupiter Hammon was also an active participant in the Revolutionary War. His role entailed delivering thought-provoking speeches that, like his writing, alluded to his Christian faith. One speech, in particular, that he delivered at a recorded assembly of the African Society of New York City, encouraged progressive emancipation rather than immediate action. Naturally, this garnered a lot of support and backlash from both sides of the argument. The New York Quakers, a slavery abolitionist group, supported the idea and placed his speech in various publications.
It is believed that Jupiter Hammon’s personal poems, essays, and speeches played a role in the abolition of slavery. In the year 1810, thirty years after the Revolutionary War, the percentage of freed slaves in the United States was approximately 14 percent. Today, his life’s works are incorporated into prominent collections of African-American publications. Jupiter Hammon is considered the first published African-American in the United States. Hammon died enslaved and was buried in an unmarked location on the Lloyd family’s property. Unfortunately, his death was unrecorded and the exact cause and date remain unknown to this day.
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