From Enlightenment Revolution
Hammon, Jupiter (1720?-1800?): American, Evangelist.
A slave in Long Island, New York, Jupiter Hammon was a clerk bookkeeper and occasional preacher. His first poems, published in 1760, distinguish him as the progenitor of African American literature.
Hammon’s writings (poems, essays, and sermons), like the “Negro Spirituals,” are among the first records of African Americans’ literary inquiry into theological ideas. Advocating each Christian’s duty to God, Hammon encouraged the spiritual fortitude of fellow slaves, and morally as well as intellectually engaged the iniquities of slavery.
A philosophical discussion of freedom and group survival, “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York” (1787) treats Christianity as an emotional and psychological anodyne for the oppressed black community. Slaves, he counsels, lacking power to effect social change or free themselves, should obey their masters, but trust in God for liberation. The poem “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ,” and the pamphlets A Winter Piece and An Evening’s Improvement, discourse on and encourage African Americans to pursue this alternative (inner) freedom. “Dialogue Between the Master and Slave,” however, demands more than psychological adjustment and spiritual resilience. The poem tenders an ethical and humane social contract between master and slave as a solution to racial tensions in America.
Similarly, “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley” and “A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death” explicitly counsel spiritual endurance. The soul’s salvation is paramount, Hammon insists; but God intertwines human secular and spiritual aspirations, extending His grace to those who respect the humanity of others. Hammon’s emphasis is thus on justice in America not on accommodating slavery. He encourages hope of satisfaction beyond this world, but challenges a defective social order.
O’Neale, Sondra A., Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of African-American Literature, 1993.
Paul A. Griffith