Until just recently, more like two weeks ago, I was unaware of such an extraordinary talent in an enslaved man named after a planet. My impression of those first great African American authors usually go back as far as WEB Dubois, and Zora Neale Hurston, who were not slaves but were writing post Emancipation Proclamation. The thought of slaves reading in the 1700s furthermore writing, never occurred to me at all. Enter Jupiter Hammon. A man who lived his whole life that spans more than nine decades as a slave has stuck me as one of the more profound new authors I have had the pleasure of being introduced. Instead of a over-simplistic, under-educated product of slavery, Hammon is the exact opposite in his command of the English language and display of knowledge of his faith and later a understanding of his disposition in American society as a slave.
An Evening Thought is an example of the religious tone Hammon uses because of his devout faith in God. The poem really seems like it could be a song in the way Hammon uses the repetition of the word “salvation.” The poem was published on Christmas in 1760 under a heading that identified Hammon as the composer and property of Mr. Lloyd of Queens Village if the heading identifying him as a slave was not there, there would be nothing that could give many one a clue a slave wrote it. I like it because religion is the one thing that the slaves and non-slaves share equally. After reading this work again I can see words that could have been key language that says Hammond understood this concept well he says, “Ho! Everyone that hunger hath, /or pineth after me/Salvation be thy leading Staff, /to let the Sinner free.” To me these lines point out the fact that he and any other person can be bond in sin, making a commonality between slave and owner.
Of all of the works read by Hammond I like the language in his address to Phyllis Wheatly. He shows so much respect for this teenaged woman that it seems like he likes her. He seems to be telling her to be strong and careful throughout her life. This poem makes me feel like Hammon was telling her to take heed in a very subliminal way. He says, “While thousands muse with earthly toys/and rage about the street/Dear Phillis seek for heavens joys/ where we do hope to meet.” Hammon uses his religious tone like in the Evening Thought to express himself without being blatant.
As his writing progresses through his later works I see a more direct approach to his writing, and it’s easier to see his true opinions about being a slave. I believe Hammon was far more gifted than we will ever get to know fully. He was so remarkable in his gifts that he was published and surely bragged on by his owner all the while discovering and developing his own understanding of himself as a man and slave.