Remembering the Life of Slave-Poet Jupiter Hammon
By Chris O’Neill
"Our forefathers came from Africa
tos't over the raging main
to a Christian shore there to stay
and not return again.
"Dark and dismal was the Day
When slavery began.
All humble thoughts were put away
Then slaves were made by Man."
From An Essay on Slavery (1786)
These were the words of Jupiter Hammon, the first Black poet to be published in America. Hammon was born in 1711 as a slave to Henry Lloyd, of Lloyd Manor in present day Lloyd Harbor.
The Lloyd family encouraged Hammon to attend school to learn to read and write. He became a bookkeeper and helped run the family business.
His first poem was published in 1760. Heavily influenced by the Great Awakening religious revival, Hammon was an evangelist at heart and criticized the institution of slavery from a biblical perspective.
The Lloyd family were patriots and had to flee Long Island to Connecticut during the American Revolution.
The irony of the Revolution was not lost on Hammon and he wrote:
Liberty is a great thing we may know from our own feelings, and we may likewise Judge so from the conduct of the white-people, in the late war. How much money has been spent, and how many lives have been lost, to defend their liberty. I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us.
(from: An Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York (1787)).
Hammon was also aware of the economic difficulties facing manumitted slaves and wrote that
“I should be glad, if others, especially the young negroes were to be free..
Hammon died around 1806 and was likely buried on the Lloyd estate. It is unclear whether he died still a slave or as a free man.