Jupiter Hammon was the first African American poet to be published in the United States. He was born in Lloyd Harbor, New York, on October 17, 1711, and was enslaved by Henry Lloyd. The Lloyd family encouraged Hammon to attend school, where he learned to read and write, and he went on to work alongside Henry Lloyd as a bookkeeper and negotiator for the family’s business. In his early years, Hammon was heavily influenced by the Great Awakening, a major religious revival of the time, and became a devout Christian.
Hammon published his first poem, “An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen’s Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760,” as a broadside in 1761. Eighteen years passed before the publication of his second work, “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley.” In this poem, Hammon addresses a series of quatrains with accompanying Bible verses to Wheatley, the most prominent African American poet of the time. In 1782 Hammon published “A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death.”
After Henry Lloyd died in 1763, Hammon remained enslaved by Lloyd’s son, Joseph, with whom he moved to Connecticut. There, he became a leader in the African American community and attended abolitionist and Revolutionary War societies. At the inaugural meeting of the Spartan Project of the African Society of New York City in September of 1786, Hammon delivered his most famous sermon, “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York.” His writing was reprinted by several abolitionist societies, including the New York Quakers and the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
Hammon is widely considered one of the founders of the early American and African American writing traditions. His date of death is unknown, although he is believed to have died sometime around 1806, having been enslaved his entire life. He is likely buried in an unmarked grave on what was once the Lloyd property and is now Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve in Long Island, New York.