Though assertions that Phillis Wheatley was America’s first published African-American poet continue to surface, that assertion has been discredited for many years. In fact, a slave by the name of Jupiter Hammon is credited with that title.
Jupiter Hammon’s first published work, an 88-line broadside, came out in Hartford, Connecticut in 1760—when Phillis was only seven years old and ten years prior to her first broadside publication, entitled “Elegy on the death of Whitefield.”
Born a slave on the Henry Lloyd Manor on Lloyd Neck, on Long Island in New York, Hammon (October 7, 1711 - ca. 1790) was educated in the household and became a trusted bookkeeper for the mercantile family, whose commercial interests spread from Boston to the West Indies and from Connecticut to London. He was also a preacher among fellow slaves.
December 25, 1760 marks the date his first work was published: “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries,” a broadside inscribed “Hartford Ct.” “A Winter Piece,” prose contemplations, was published the following year. Four or five other works published subsequently, through 1787, including addresses to Phillis Wheatley and “to the Negroes in New York State,” and some undiscovered verses celebrating the visit of Prince William Henry to Lloyd Manor House in 1782, prior to the defeat of the British.
The original of Jupiter Hammon’s 1760 work may be found in the New York State Historical Society. A full account of Hammon, including a biographical sketch, poems, and critical analysis of his works, may be found in America’s First Negro Poet: The Complete Works of Jupiter Hammon of Long Island (Associated Faculty Press, Inc., Kenniket Press, Empire State Historical Publications Series, 1983, Port Washington, NY - compare prices to buy the book).
Two of Hammon’s poems are in our library here at About Poetry:
- “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries,” his first published poem, written on Christmas Day 1760 and published in broadside
- “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly,” his poetical address to Wheatley, dated “Hartford, Aug 4, 1778,” also published in broadsheet