Jupiter Hammon, the first Black poet published in the United States, was born into slavery in 1711.
Opium and Rose, slaves purchased by Henry Lloyd are believed to be the parents of Jupiter Hammon. They are the first set of male and female slaves on record in the Lloyd Papers that continually served the Lloyd family after their purchase.
Hammon served under the Lloyd family his entire life, having worked under four generations of slave masters. The Lloyds allowed Hammon to receive a rudimentary education. As such, his ability to read and write aided his slave masters in their commercial businesses, ultimately supporting methods of institutionalized slavery.
Hammon's goal was to take advantage of the literary skills his slave masters had him obtain, by exhibiting a level of intellectual awareness through literature. In doing so, he could create literature layered in metaphors and symbols, providing Hammon a safe place to speak about his feelings of slavery.
A well-known and well-respected Christian slave preacher and clerk-bookkeeper allowed him to gain wide circulation of his poems and make him best known for his poetry. Hammon was first published on Christmas Day 1760 with the poem "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries" at age 49. Never emancipated, Hammon's first published poem listed the name of his current master.
Eighteen years passed before his second work appeared in print, "An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley, Ethiopian Poetess, in Boston, who came from Africa at eight years of age, and soon became acquainted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ ." Hammon wrote the poem while Henry Lloyd had temporarily moved himself and the slaves he owned to Hartford, Connecticut, during the Revolutionary War.
It was around this time Wheatley published her first poem, historically recognizing her as the first published Black female author. Hammon never met Wheatley, but was a great admirer. His dedication poem to her contained 21 rhyming quatrains, each accompanied by a related Bible verse. Hammon believed his poem would encourage Wheatley along her Christian journey.
Also in 1778, Hammon published "The Kind Master and Dutiful Servant," a poetical dialogue, followed by "A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death" in 1782. These works set the tone for Hammon's "An Address to Negros in the State of New York."
At the inaugural meeting of the African Society on September 24, 1786, Hammon delivered what became known as the "Hammon Address" to the Negroes of the State of New-York." He was 76 years old and had spent his lifetime in slavery. In his address he told the crowd, "If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being Black, or for being slaves." He also said that while he personally had no wish to be free, he did wish others, especially "the young negroes, were free."
Hammon's speech draws heavily on Christian motifs and theology, stating that Black people should maintain their high moral standards because "being slaves on Earth had already secured their place in heaven." Scholars believe Hammon supported gradual emancipation as a way to end slavery, believing that the immediate emancipation of all slaves would be difficult to achieve. New York Quakers who supported the abolition of slavery published Hammon's speech, and it was then reprinted by several abolitionist groups, including the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
Hammon's full body of work consists of eight published works – four poems and four prose – all consisting of religious content. It is believed that he died within or before the year 1806. Though his death was not recorded, it is assumed that Hammon was buried separately from the Lloyd's on the Lloyd family property in an unmarked grave.