Term Paper: Jupiter Hammon the Significance

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[. . .] He seemed to believe he was too old to make it on his own. "Hammon has been criticized for stating in his "Address" that he himself did not wish to be free; but as a seventy-year-old slave he could have done little to support himself and would probably have been reduced to poverty" (Bloom 55).

His owners always treated him kindly, and he seemed to enjoy some privileges many other slaves did not, such as use of the family library. His owner also stipulated in his will that Hammon be taken care of in his old age. The Lloyd family also continually kept Hammon in the family, passing him from one relative to another when his first owner died, so clearly they looked at him as an important slave to keep, or somehow as a member of the family.

Spiritually, Hammon was as important to Blacks as he was as an author and advocate of freedom. He used some of his works as sermons, and preached his message to Black audiences, urging them to follow their true master, the Lord.

He] exhorts his audience not to follow their "superiors" (their masters) but the authority of divine law, asserting "let our superiors act as they shall think best, we must resolve to walk in the steps our Saviour hath set before us, which was a holy life, a humble submission to the will of God" (Richards 128).

He preached to his fellow slaves at the Lloyd home on Long Island, and in Connecticut when the family relocated there during the Revolutionary War, because British troops took over their manor. The Lloyds were staunch revolutionaries, and Hammon took his political beliefs from their lead. In his ode to a servant and his master, "The Kind Master and Dutiful Servant," he does not call out for victory for either side, he asks for everyone to lay down their arms in the name of peace.

His main concern however was religion, and each of his pieces uses this theme extensively. Critics call his work "simple" and inelegant, but all note how amazing it is that a man with no documented education was so lucid and thoughtful. Critic J. Saunders Redding noted,

Though he was not without the romantic gift of spontaneity, he lacked any knowledge of metrics and sought only to make rhymes [...] When he is most lucid there is force in the quaintness of his thought evocative of the highly personal flavor of early American letters (Bloom 58).

As critics agree, Jupiter Hammon was a remarkable individual. Uneducated, he became America's first Black male published poet. While preaching freedom for his brethren, he chose to remain a slave. He preached obedience to one master, the Lord, but urged his fellow African-Americans to find salvation so they could discover their own freedom, and create their own nation. He was so trusted by his masters that they let him handle their finances, and helped him publish his poetry. Hammon felt he had the best of both worlds. He had to freedom to speak to his fellow Blacks, write poetry, and read in his master's library. He was taken care of in his old age, and never had to live in poverty or despair, as so many of his fellow slaves did. He was a Black leader before the term became fashionable, and he was a revolutionary, although he probably never would have considered himself by that title.

Jupiter Hammon's work is finally becoming recognized by other Black writers, such as Maya Angelou, who reads one of his poems at the Long Island History web site. While at first his life seems to be a paradox, Hammon turned his life into a plea for freedom, peace, and religious salvation. He died some time around 1800, and his burial place is unknown.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Black American Poets and Dramatists: Before the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.

Brawley, Benjamin. "Jupiter Hammon." Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2002. 5 Nov. 2002. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC

DeWan, George. "Jupiter Hammon: A Slave and a Poet." Long Island History. 2002. 5 Nov. 2002. http://www.lihistory.com/4/hs423a.htm

Kaplan, Sidney. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution. Revised ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989.

Nelson, Emmanuel S. African-American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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