The Life And Times of Jupiter Hammon: The Man Who Influenced A Generation of Black Poets.

October 19, 2023

This week we celebrated Black Poetry Day as a remembrance to Black literary pioneers who paved the way for many generations. One of those people if Jupiter Hammon, poet and essayist whose writings were published while he was a slave in the Revolutionary-era New England and is recognized as the first Black published poet in the United States. Born in New York, on October 17, 1711, he is the reason why the date is celebrated as Black Poetry Day. His poem, “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries” was composed on December 25, 1760 and appeared as a broadside in 1761, placing Hammon as the first Black person in America to have literary work published. His impact on the culture of his time and subsequent generations of black authors and poets is significant. In the times when Black voices were stifled and oppressed, Hammon demonstrated that black voices had a place in the literary world, challenging prevailing stereotypes and assumptions about the intellectual capacities of enslaved people.

1-3 Address to the Negroes in the NY…title pg (odyssey)

Even though many of Hammon’s writings had Christian themes, they emphasized themes of education, and the pursuit of freedom, radicalizing the enslaved people to call for the abolition of slavery. In 1763 Hammon moved to Connecticut and there he became a leader in the African American community and attended abolitionist and Revolutionary War societies. At the inaugural meeting of the Spartan Project of the African Society of New York City in September of 1786, Hammon delivered his most famous sermon, “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York.” His works laid the groundwork for later writers and activists who championed similar causes.

Although Hammon’s literary output was relatively limited, his status as the first published black poet in America ensured that his work was studied and remembered by later generations of black writers. His work helped inspire subsequent black poets and authors to use their writing to challenge social injustices and assert their own voices. His contributions to the literary world has influenced figures such as Maya Angelou, Gil Scott Heron, Sonia Sanchez, Langston Hughes, Jericho Brown and many other important writers and civil rights activists.

Hammon’s story, as an enslaved African American who was able to read, write, and publish his work in a time of great adversity, serves as a testament to the resilience and creativity of black individuals. His life and writings continue to inspire others to overcome obstacles and make their voices heard. His writings and his story continue to be an important part of the history of African American literature and culture.