Jupiter Hammon was the first published black American poet. He was writing before the United States even existed.
Jupiter Hammon was born a slave and died a slave, but he lived as a poet. Hammon was born in 1711 in New York. Unlike the majority of slaves, Hammon and his father both learned to read and write. Hammon grew to become a devout Christian, publishing poems and sermons centered on his faith. In 1760, Jupiter Hammon became the first published black poet in what would become the United States.
Note: Phillis Wheatley is often thought to be the first published black American poet; she is the first black American who published an entire book of poetry called Poems On Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). Jupiter Hammon once wrote a poem addressed to Phillis Wheatley, whom he had met and admired.
Hammon favored a gradual end to slavery. He was also a supporter of the American Revolution. Not much is known about his life, so here is part of the first poem published by a black American (published before the United States was anything more than a bold idea):
(An Evening Thought)
Salvation comes by Jesus Christ alone,
The only Son of God;
Redemption now to every one,
That love his holy Word.
Dear Jesus we would fly to Thee,
And leave off every Sin,
Thy tender Mercy well agree;
Salvation from our King.
Salvation comes now from the Lord,
Our victorious King;
His holy Name be well ador’d,
Salvation surely bring.
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 thy Preparation;
Turn not away thy tender Eye;
We seek thy true Salvation.
Salvation comes from God we know,
The true and only One;
It’s well agreed and certain true,
He gave his only Son.
Why he’s been forgotten: The first half of the 18th century was dominated by the likes of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift. Later in the century, Lyrical Ballads (1798) by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge sparked the Romantic Movement and many lesser known poets were left in the wake.
28 Black People You Probably Don’t Know About (But You Should):
18) Diane Nash
21) Joseph Cinque
22) P.B.S. Pinchback
Keep coming back for another article each day of Black History Month.