We continue (not conclude) honoring our literary legends. One of the first black poets was a gentleman named Jupiter Hammon who has the distinction of being the first published African-American in 1760 when one of his poems appeared in print. He lived until 1806. The resources below give a good detail of his life and a bit of a criticism of the man’s views, if not only his work. I will leave it up to you to decide and finishing it off, is Mr. Hammon’s poem recited in the video below.
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 (October 17, 1711 – before 1806) was a Black poet who became the first African-American published writer in America when a poem appeared in print in 1760. He was a slave his entire life, and the date of his death is unknown. He was living in 1790 at the age of 79, and died by 1806. Hammon was a devout Christian, and is considered one of the founders of African American literature.
Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology;
His poetry reflects a strong influence of Methodism and the Wesleyan Revival that swept America in the middle of the eighteenth century. This is particularly evident in the hymnal qualities of his verse. In fact, because all of his poetizing is on religious themes, some critics have speculated that Hammon may have been a preacher first and a poet only secondarily.
A strong religious bent is evident in the poem to Phillis Wheatley when, overwhelmed by religious fervor, the poet expresses joy that
God’s tender mercy brought thee here;
Tossed o’er the raging main
Could it be that Jupiter Hammon, Black man of God and a slave, really did not know how far removed “God’s tender mercy” was from a slave ship? Or could it be that he was so removed from worldly woe and attuned to anticipated heavenly joy that slavery, one of the world’s major woes, no longer existed for him? Slavery was of this earth, and Jupiter Hammon longed for salvation on high. Indeed, in “An Evening Thought” the word “salvation” occurs on every stanza, giving some hint of the absorption in Christian otherworldliness that can render a man forgetful of his earthly state.
But his religious fervor seriously impaired his poetry. There is in Jupiter Hammon’s verse none of the felicity of thought and verbal imagery found in Phillis Wheatley’s poetry. Her subject matter is of broader range, and her classical training disciplined her to take a more balanced view of Man, God, and Nature.
Jupiter Hammon’s last published work was his “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York.” His brief comments on slavery in this address serve to confirm the view that, for him, slavery was an endurable and acceptable institution. Better to accept enslavement on earth and receive a Christian crown in the Hereafter than lose one’s soul fighting against slavery. Thus he urged acceptance of the slavery system, although he did express regret that the Black veterans of the Revolutionary War were not rewarded for patriotic efforts with freedom from bondage.
In the final analysis, Jupiter Hammon’s religion was an opiate that dulled him to the world’s evil ways. Instead of giving him a revolutionary social vision, it filled him with penitential cries. And his poetry is esthetically anemic and almost stifling in its repetitive religiosity.
Note: Although the editors of the anthology seem harsh of Mr. Hammon’s life and point of view, the following poems are for you to decide whether the points were made.
AN EVENING THOUGHT: SALVATION BY CHRIST WITH PENETENTIAL CRIES
Salvation comes by Christ alone,
The only Son of God;
Redemption now to every one,
That loves his holy Word.
Dear Jesus, give thy spirit now,
Thy grace to every Nation,
That han’t the Lord to whom we bow
The Author of Salvation.
Dear Jesus, unto Thee we cry,
Give us the Preparation;
Turn not away thy tender Eye;
We seek thy true Salvation.
Lord, hear our penitential Cry;
Salvation from above;
It is the Lord that doth supply,
With his Redeeming Love.
Dear Jesus, by thy precious Blood,
The World Redemption have:
Salvation now comes from the Lord,
He being thy captive slave.
Dear Jesus, let the nations cry,
And all the people say,
Salvation comes from Christ on high,
Haste on Tribunal Day.
We cry as Sinners to the Lord,
Salvation to obtain;
It is firmly fixed, his holy Word,
Ye shall not cry in vain.
Lord, Turn our dark benighted Souls;
Give us a true Motion,
And let the Hearts of all the World,
Make Christ their Salvation.
Lord, unto whom now shall we go,
Or seek a safe abode?
Thou hast the Word, Salvation Too:
The only Son of God.
“Ho! every one that hunger hath,
Or pineth after me,
Salvation be thy leading Staff,
To set the Sinner free.”
Dear Jesus, unto Thee we fly;
Depart, depart from Sin,
Salvation doth at length supply,
The glory of our King.
Come, ye Blessed of the Lord,
Salvation greatly given;
o, turn your hearts, accept the Word,
Your souls are fit for Heaven.
Dear Jesus, we now turn to thee,
Salvation to obtain;
Our Hearts and Souls do meet again,
To magnify thy Name.
Come, holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,
The Object of our Care;
Salvation doth increase our Love;
Our hearts hath felt thy fear.
Now Glory be to God on High,
Salvation high and low;
And thus the Soul on Christ rely,
To Heaven surely go.
Come, Blessed Jesus, Heavenly Dove
Accept Repentance here;
Salvation give, with tender Love;
Let us with Angels share.
AN ADDRESS TO MISS PHILLIS WHEATLEY, ETHIOPIAN POETESS
An address to Miss Phillis Wheatly, Ethiopian Poetess, in Boston, who came from Africa at eight years of age, and soon became acquainted with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
O, come, you pious youth! adore
The wisdom of thy God,
In bringing thee from distant shore,
To learn His holy word,
Thou mightst been left behind,
Amidst a dark abode;
God’s tender mercy still combined,
Thou hast the holy word.
Fair Wisdom’s ways are paths of peace,
And they that walk therein,
Shall reap the joys that never cease,
And Christ shall be their King.
God’s tender mercy brought thee here;
Tossed o’er the raging main;
In Christian faith thou hast a share,
Worth all the gold of Spain.
While thousands tossed by the sea,
And others settled down,
God’s tender mercy set thee free
From dangers that come down.
That thou a pattern still might be,
To youth of Boston town,
The blessed Jesus set thee free
From every sinful wound.
The blessed Jesus, who came down,
Unveiled his sacred face,
To cleanse the soul of every wound
And give repenting grace.
That we poor sinners may obtain
The pardon of our sin,
Dear Blessed Jesus, now constrain
And bring us flocking in.
Come, you, Phillis, now aspire,
And seek the living God,
So step by step thou mayst go higher
Till perfect in the word.
While thousands moved to distant shore,
And others left behind,
The blessed Jesus still adore;
Implant this in thy mind.
Thou has left the heathen shore;
Through mercy of the Lord,
Among the heathen live no more;
Come magnify thy God.
I pray the living God may be,
The shepherd of thy soul;
His tender mercies still are free,
His mysteries to unfold.
Thou, Phillis, when thou hunger hast,
Or pantest for thy God,
Jesus Christ is thy relief
Thou hast the holy word.
The bounteous mercies of the Lord
Are hid beyond the sky,
And holy souls that have His word
Shall taste them when they die.
These bounteous mercies are from God,
The merits of His Son;
The humble soul that loves His word
He chooses for his own.
Come, dear Phillis, be advised
To drink Samaria’s flood;
There is nothing more that shall suffice
But Christ’s redeeming blood.
While thousands muse with earthly toys,
And range about the street,
Dear Phillis, seek for Heaven’s joys,
Where we do hope to meet.
When God shall send his summons down
And number saints together,
Blessed angels chant (triumphant sound),
Come live with me forever.
The humble soul shall fly to God,
And leave the things of time,
Start forth as ‘twere at the first word,
To taste things more divine.
Behold! the soul shall waft away,
Whene’er we come to die,
And leave its cottage made of clay,
In twinkling of an eye.
Now glory be to the Most High,
United praises given,
By all on earth, incessantly,
And all the host of heaven.