Jupiter Hammon- Background

By: Scott Munn

   Jupiter Hammon was born into slavery on October 17,1711. Born into the ownership of the Lloyd family of Lloyd’s Neck Long Island, it is unclear as to who the parents of Jupiter Hammon are. Historians believe that the most likely candidate for Hammon’s mother is a woman named Rose, who frequently was mentioned in the records of Henry Lloyd alongside Jupiter Hammon. Rose was a slave owned by Henry Lloyd’s father, who sold her services to his tenant in 1688. (Brucia, 522)

Obium is seen by Sondra O’Neale to be the likeliest candidate for Jupiter Hammon’s father. As another slave owned by the Lloyd family, had a long tenure on the Lloyd residence which coincided with Rose’s and possibly that of Jupiter Hammon’s conception as well. Thought the possibility of Henry Lloyd himself as the biological father is not one that should be ruled out entirely. (Brucia 517)

The Lloyd family were influential and wealthy agriculturalists and merchants. Under this family, Jupiter Hammon would serve three generations including Henry Lloyd (1685-1763); the son of Henry Lloyd, Joseph Lloyd (1716-1780) and the nephew of Joseph Lloyd, John Lloyd II (1745-1792). (May, 463-464)

While under their ownership Hammon was taught how to read and write through the SPG education system (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts) This was done so that Hammon would be able to carry out small financial matters for the Lloyd family, including regional and local institutionalized slavery trade. (Richards 15)

He used these skills in order to further his own self-education. On May 1733, using cash that he had acquired, Jupiter Hammon purchased a Bible from Henry Lloyd. In 1760 Jupiter Hammon became the first published African-American poet, having his poem “An Evening Thought, Salvation by Christ with Penetential Cries,” published in broadside, accompanied by the words “Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr Lloyd, of Queen’s Village, on Long-Island, the 25th of December, 1760.” (Brucia, 518-519)

During the American Revolution the Lloyd family split itself into Loyalist and Whig factions. In 1776 the British occupied Long Island and Hammon went to Connetiuct with Joseph Lloyd and John Lloyd II, the two Lloyd Whigs. During this time they live in Stamford and then later in Hartford. (Richards, 520)

While in Hartford Joseph Lloyd committed suicide under the mistaken belief that the British had captured Charleston and were going to win the war. This left Hammon under the ownership of John Lloyd who he returned with to the Lloyd estate of Queens Village (Nationalist)

During his time in under Joseph and John Lloyd II, Jupiter Hammon published a number of works, both poetry and prose including “An Address to Phillis Wheatley,” “A Winter Piece,” and “A Poem for Children with thoughts on Death.” (May, 566)

The exact year of death of Hammon is unknown. A receipt for money that mentions Hammon in the New York Historical Society proves that Hammon was living as late as 1790. An edition of the Address to the Negroes issues in 1806 refers to Jupiter Hammon posthumously as a “man of good parts and an esteemed neighbor.” Because of these two recordings it is known that his death was somewhere between 1790 and 1806. (O’ Neale, 22)

Works Cited

Brucia, Margaret A. “The African-American Poet, Jupiter Hammon: A Home-Born Slave and His Classical Name¹.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition, vol. 7, no. 4, Spring2001, p. 515. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.umw.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=6724349&site=ehost-live.

May, Cedrick and Julie McCown. “An Essay on Slavery”: An Unpublished Poem by Jupiter Hammon.” Early American Literature, vol. 48, no. 2, June 2013, pp. 457-471. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.umw.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=88915439&site=ehost-live.

O’Neale, Sondra A. Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of African-American Literature. Metuchen, N.J. : [Philadelphia]: Scarecrow ; American Theological Library Association, 1993. Print. ATLA Monograph Ser.. No. 28.

Richards, Phillip M. “Nationalist Themes in the Preaching of Jupiter Hammon.” Early American Literature, vol. 25, no. 2, Sept. 1990, p. 123. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.umw.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=5409603&site=ehost-live.