Jupiter Hammon – Black History and Writing in Colonial America

Since this is Black History Month and I’m a writer I decided to see if I could find out anything interesting about black writers in America. I figured I’d find bios of Alex Haley, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison. What I did not expect to find was an African American writer from Colonial American times.
Jupiter Hammon was born in 1711 in Lloyd Harbor, Oyster Bay, New York. He was a slave to the Lloyd family on Long Island. Apparently his parents were slaves at Lloyd Manor and when Jupiter was a child he was sent to school with the Lloyd children. Like his father Obadiah he learned to read and write. A black poet, he was the first African –American to be published in the United States, in spite of the fact he was never emancipated.
A poet, his first poem was published in 1761. Written on December 25th, 1760, it was titled “An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Crienes: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen’s Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760.” He was a devout Christian.
He was part of a Revolutionary War Group called the African Society of New York City and spoke at their first meeting. In what has come to be known as The Hammon Address he spoke of his hope that “young negroes, were free”.
Hammon published a total of four poems and three sermon essays. He died sometime before 1806 although there doesn’t seem to be any record of his death. His published writings even pre-date those of Phyllis Wheatley. He is buried on the Lloyd property in an unmarked grave in what is now Oyster Bay, New York.
“An Adress to Miss Phillis Wheatly [sic], Ethiopian Poetess, in Boston, who came from Africa at eight years of age, and soon became acquainted with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Miss Wheatly; pray give leave to express as follows:
O, come you pious youth: adore
The wisdom of thy God.
In bringing thee from distant shore,
To learn His holy word.
Thou mightst been left behind,
Amidst a dark abode;
God’s tender Mercy still combin’d,
Thou hast the holy word.
Fair wisdom’s ways are paths of peace,
And they that walk therein,
Shall reap the joys that never cease,
And Christ shall be their king.
God’s tender mercy brought thee here,
tost o’er the raging main;
In Christian faith thou hast a share,
Worth all the gold of Spain.
While thousands tossed by the sea,
And others settled down,
God’s tender mercy set thee free,
From dangers still unknown.
That thou a pattern still might be,
To youth of Boston town,
The blessed Jesus thee free,
From every sinful wound.
The blessed Jesus, who came down,
Unveil’d his sacred face,
To cleanse the soul of every wound,
And give repenting grace.
That we poor sinners may obtain
The pardon of our sin;
Dear blessed Jesus now constrain,
And bring us flocking in.
Come you, Phillis, now aspire,
And seek the living God,
So step by step thou mayst go higher,
Till perfect in the word.
While thousands mov’d to distant shore,
And others left behind,
The blessed Jesus still adore,
Implant this in thy mind.
Thou hast left the heathen shore;
Thro’ mercy of the Lord,
Among the heathen live no more,
Come magnify thy God.
I pray the living God may be,
The sheperd of thy soul;
His tender mercies still are free,
His mysteries to unfold.
Thou, Phillis, when thou hunger hast,
Or pantest for thy God;
Jesus Christ is thy relief,
Thou hast the holy word.
The bounteous mercies of the Lord,
Are hid beyond the sky,
And holy souls that love His word,
Shall taste them when they die.
These bounteous mercies are from God,
The merits of his Son;
The humble soul that loves his word,
He chooses for his own.
Come, dear Phillis, be advis’d,
To drink Samaria’s flood;
There nothing is that shall suffice,
But Christ’s redeeming blood.
When thousands muse with earthly toys,
And range about the street,
Dear Phillis, seek for heaven’s joys,
Where we do hope to meet.
When God shall send His summons down,
And number saints together.
Blest angels chant, (triumphant sound)
Come live with me forever.
The humble soul shall fly to God,
And leave the things of time,
Start forth as ’twere at the first word,
To taste things more divine.
Behold! the soul shall waft away,
Whene’er we come to die,
And leave this cottage made of clay,
In twinkling of an eye.
Now glory be to the Most High,
United praises given,
By all on earth, incessantly,
And all the host of heav’n.
Composed by Jupiter Hammon, Hartford, August 4, 1778

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