A grad student at the University of Texas in Arlington has found a rare new poem written by the first black published writer in America, Jupiter Hammon. Hammon was born into slavery in 1711. While researching Hammon’s poems, Julie McCown found the 200-plus-year-old manuscript buried in the archives at Yale University Library in Connecticut. The poem is dated November 1786 and was in near “perfect” condition according to UTA professor Cedrick May.
Writings by Jupiter Hammon were last found in 1915.
Interestingly, May is a professor of African American literature but McCowan studied Hammon’s writings as part of his electronic text design and web publishing class.
In his first published book, Hammon referred to slavery as the will of God. That was in 1760. In this new poem, he refers to it as a man-made evil.
Hammon was born in 1711 to the Lloyd family in Long Island, New York. He was close to the family and was educated with his owner’s children. He served as their bookkeeper and negotiator of business matters. A devout Christian, Hammon served as a preacher among slaves. His writings focused on the gradual emancipation of slaves rather than the immediate. It was said that he believed the practice was so entrenched in society that it would be too difficult to achieve. His comfortable words were more accepted by whites and several white abolitionist groups published his work. His first publication was “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries.” The credits for the poem read: “Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen’s Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760.”
After serving a lifetime of slavery, Hammon wrote his “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York”, also known as the “Hammon Address” On September 24, 1786. While he expressed empathy for the enslaved, he held that slaves should be content with their lives as it is the will of God. He taught that slaves should live accordingly on earth as there is no reproach in heaven because of their suffering.
Based on his earlier writings, the newfound piece of literature shines a very different light on Hammon’s view of slavery. Professor May contends that there remains one lost poem of Hammons.
There is no record of his death, but Hammon died around 1806 and was buried on the Lloyd land in an unmarked grave.