Lucy Terry – Creator of the Oldest Known Work of African-American Literature


Biography: Lucy Terry Prince

This is a biography focusing on the life and the contributions of Lucy Terry Prince to literature. Prince is considered the composer of the oldest piece of literature written by an African-American. In 1746 Terry wrote “Bars Fight”, a ballad about an incident in August 1746 in Deerfield, Massachusetts that involved some Native Americans attacking and killing two white settler families. “The Bars” was a colonial term for a meadow.

Quick Facts:

Name: Lucy Terry

Occupation: Poet

Death Date: 1821

Area of Death: Sunderland, Vermont

AKA: Lucy Prince, Lucy Terry Prince, Lucy Abijah, Abijah’s Luce, Luce Abijah

Widely known for: Being the first African-American published and a great orator of the 18th-century.

Biography: Who is she?

Terry was a gifted story teller and a skilled wordsmith. With her ballad “Bars Fight” (1746), she adequately narrated the conflict between Native Americans and the two white settler families. This poem was the first one ever by a Black American. However, her poem was shared for more than a century before it was published. In 1855, Josiah G. Holland-an American poet and novelist- published Terry’s ballad in his History of Western Massachusetts.


Early life

Terry was born in Africa but later stolen and sold in Rhode Island as a slave. At the age of five, Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield bought her to live with and serve his family in Massachusetts. It was during the “Great Awakening” period in Britain and the American colonies (1730s and 1740s) that Wells decided the young Terry be baptized to become Christian. It was a time for protestants to rethink their stand in relation to piety and the renewal of their devotion to religion.

In 1756 Abijah Prince-a prominent free black man from Curacao – decided to purchase Terry’s freedom, with the intention of making her his wife. The two spent a great part of their lives in Guilford, Vermont where they sired six children. The children were Festus, Durexa, Abijah Jr, Cesar, Tatnai, and Drucilla.

Major Works

Terry’s prominent work was known as “Bars Fight” and it shed light on the Native Americans who attacked two white families. The conflict took place in Deerfield, MA in a section called “The Bars.” To this point, this ballad happens to be the only known piece written by Terry.

Terry the Orator

In 1756, Terry used her oratory skills in a land case that eventually went before the U.S. Supreme Court. Terry again made history for becoming the first woman to ever argue a case before the Supreme Court. The chief justice of the court at the time was Samuel Chase. He was impressed by her arguments and said her arguments were among the best he had ever heard including Vermont lawyers of the age.

Her Last Days

Terry died at the advanced age of 97 in 1821. Over the course of her life, Terry managed to win the respect and admiration of everyone she met.  Terry will be remembered for her eloquence, elocution, and as one of the earliest African-American names in literature.



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