Jupiter Hammon was a black poet and the first published black writer in America. He was born a slave on October 17, 1711. He was owned by four generations of the Lloyd family of Lloyd Neck, Long Island, New York. He had been a slave his entire life, allowed to attend school, and his formal education influenced his development as a poet. Like his masters, Hammon was a devout Christian and was influenced by the religious revivals taking place in 18th century New England.
His first published poem “An Evening’s Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries”, was written on Christmas Day, 1760, and published as a broadside in early 1761, making it the first piece of literature published in the United States by a person of African descent. Considered a religious poet, Hammon also served as a preacher to the other enslaved members of the Lloyd estate.
When Henry Lloyd died in 1763, Jupiter went to live with Henry’s son, Joseph Lloyd. Joseph was a patriot during the Revolutionary War, and when the British captured New York and confiscated his land he fled to Connecticut taking Jupiter with him. When the war ended they returned to the Manor, where Jupiter continued to writer his poetry and prose.
His second extant piece of poetry, “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley”, published 17 years after the first, honored Phillis Wheatley. Hammon never mentions himself in the poem, but it appears that in choosing Wheatley as a subject, he was acknowledging their common bond.
He was a prominent member of the African-American community, and in 1787 made a speed to the African Society of New York City titled “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York”, also know as the “Hammon Address.” Hammon wrote the speech at age seventy-six after a lifetime of slavery, containing his famous words, “If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves.”
Jupiter’s death was unrecorded, but historians place it somewhere around 18006. He spent his final years living with John Nelson Lloyd, a great-grandson of Henry. He was buried on the Lloyd estate in an unmarked grave.
An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penetential Cries