Jupiter Hammon: Contribution as American Poet

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      The first black American poet Jupiter Hammon (1720-1800), was a slave on a Long Island household, New York. He was remembered mainly for his religious poems and also for “An Address to the Negroes of the State of New York” (1787), in which he advocated freeing children of slaves instead of condemning them to hereditary slavery. He argues that his fellow slaves should be patient and urge the owners to free slave children. His long poem “An Evening Thought” (1760) was the first poem published by a black man in America. During the colonial period, Olaudah Equiano and Jupiter Hammon emerged as the important black writers. Equiano, an Ibo from Niger (West Africa), was the first black in America to write an autobiography - an early example of the slave narrative genre - Equiano gives an account of his native land, the horrors and cruelties of his captivity and enslavement in the West Indies. Hammon’s work helped to generate support for the Abolitionist Movement growing in the Northern states.

      In a democracy the political writings had to be clear to appeal to the voters, and to have informed voters, universal education was promoted by many of the founding fathers. One indication of the vigorous, if not simple, literary life was the proliferation of newspapers. There were more newspapers read in America during the Revolution than anywhere else in the world. The immigration also mandated a simple style in writing. The clarity in writing was vital to a newcomer for whom English might be a second language. Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence is clear and logical but his committee’s modification made it even simpler. The Federalist Papers, written in support of the Constitution, are of lucidity, logical arguments and suitable for debate in a democratic nation.

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