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Adam Biggs

Walter Henderson Brooks was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Albert Royal Brooks and Lucy Goode, slaves. Brooks's father was an enterprising slave who owned his own “snack house” and a livery business that brought him into contact with some of Virginia's wealthiest citizens, including his wife's owner, German consul Daniel Von Groning. Albert Brooks purchased his wife's freedom in 1862 for $800 Still a slave Walter Brooks at age seven was sold to the Turpin Yarborough tobacco firm He woefully recalled his time there writing It was all I could do to perform the task assigned to my little hands What I do remember is that I stood in mortal fear of the consequences of failing to do what was required of me When the Richmond manufacturer fell victim to wartime economic decline Brooks was allowed to reside with his mother and began working ...

Article

Adam Biggs

clergyman, temperance leader, and poet, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Albert Royal Brooks and Lucy Goode, slaves. Brooks's father, an enterprising slave, owned his own “snack house” and a livery business that brought him into contact with some of Virginia's wealthiest citizens, including his wife's owner, the German consul Daniel Von Groning. Albert Brooks purchased his wife's freedom in 1862 for eight hundred dollars. Still a slave, Walter Brooks at age seven was sold to the Turpin & Yarborough tobacco firm. He woefully recalled his time there, writing: “It was all I could do to perform the task assigned to my little hands. What I do remember is that I stood in mortal fear of ‘the consequences’ of failing to do what was required of me.” When the Richmond manufacturer fell victim to wartime economic decline, Brooks was allowed to reside with his mother ...

Article

Elizabeth Kuebler-Wolf

typesetter, potter, and poet, was born and lived his entire life in and around Edgefield, South Carolina, an important center for pottery production in the nineteenth century. Dave's parents were slaves belonging to Samuel Landrum, a Scottish immigrant who had moved his family and slaves to Edgefield, South Carolina, in 1773. The outlines of Dave's life story can be traced through the business activities and legal papers of his various owners, oral history from Edgefield, and Dave's own pottery upon which he inscribed sayings, verses, and dates.

After moving to Edgefield the Landrum family became involved in the making of pottery and other entrepreneurial enterprises. Amos and Abner Landrum, sons of Samuel, became partners with a third man, Harvey Drake, in a pottery concern. Dave first appears in the legal record in a 13 June 1818 mortgage agreement between Harvey Drake and Eldrid Simkins both ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Dear Master, I will follow thee,

According to thy word,

And pray that God may be with me,

And save thee in the Lord.

This stanza is from Jupiter Hammon's poem “A Dialogue Entitled the Kind Master and the Dutiful Servant,” published in 1786, when Hammon was in his seventies. Hammon had been a slave his entire life, and had served several generations of the Lloyd family on Long Island, New York. Many of his writings neither condemn, nor even mention, slavery; instead, they praise Christianity in the same manner as the evangelical hymns that were his models. But even when his words were not deliberately radical, they represented a radical act—Hammon became the first known African American to publish a piece of literature.

Hammon s owners were wealthy and the few records of his life with them indicate that he was a favorite servant who worked as a ...

Article

Sondra O’Neale

Jupiter Hammon gave birth to formal African American literature with the publication of An Evening Thought, Salvation, by Christ, with Penitential Cries (1760). Hammon was born on 17 October 1711 at the Lloyd plantation in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. He was almost fifty years old when he published his first poem, “Salvation Comes by Christ Alone,” on 25 December 1760.

Hammon was a slave to the wealthy Lloyd family. It is evident that he received some education, and he was entrusted with the family's local savings and worked as a clerk in their business. There is no record of his having a wife or child.

By the time he was eighty, Hammon had published at least three other poems— “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly [sic], Ethiopian Poetess”, “A Poem for Children with Thoughts of Death”, and A Dialogue Entitled the Kind ...

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Duncan F. Faherty

poet and preacher, was born on the estate of Henry Lloyd on Long Island, New York, most probably the son of two of Lloyd's slaves, Rose and Opium, the latter renowned for his frequent escape attempts. Few records remain from Hammon's early life, though correspondence of the Lloyd family indicates that in 1730 he suffered from a near-fatal case of gout. He was educated by Nehemiah Bull, a Harvard graduate, and Daniel Denton, a British missionary, on the Lloyd manor. Except for a brief period during the Revolutionary War, when Joseph Lloyd removed the family to Hartford Connecticut Hammon lived his entire life on Long Island in the Huntington area serving the Lloyds as clerk and bookkeeper There is no surviving indication that Hammon either married or had children The precise date of his death and the location of his grave remain unknown although it is ...

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David N. Gellman

In 1760 Jupiter Hammon became the first published African American poet. Over the next three decades Hammon's small assortment of published prose and poetry made him a literary pioneer. The native of Long Island, New York, explored themes and styles that would define African American literature from the American Revolution to the Civil War. His reputation has long been obscured by that of his more famous contemporary, Phillis Wheatley. Nonetheless, Hammon's work addresses crucial themes concerning religion, slavery, and African American literary self-expression.

Hammon spent his entire life as a slave He was the property of the Lloyds a wealthy merchant family that maintained an estate on the northern coast of Long Island Slaves were among the cargo the Lloyds carried between the West Indies and the Atlantic coast One scholar suggests that Hammon was the son of two Lloyd family slaves Rose whom the Lloyds had acquired from ...

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Joan R. Sherman

The “Colored Bard of North Carolina” was the only man to publish volumes of poetry while in bondage and the first African American to publish any book in the South. Born on the tobacco farm of William Horton in Northampton County, North Carolina, George Moses Horton moved with his master to Chatham and worked as a “cow-boy” and farm laborer throughout his teens. During these years he taught himself to read—he could not write until 1832—and began composing verses and hymns in his head. From about 1817 Horton took weekly Sabbath walks of eight miles to the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina to sell fruit soon winning the students admiration by composing love lyrics and acrostics to order He sold a dozen poems a week dictating them to the collegians who furthered their bard s education by giving him books of poetry geography history ...

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Joan R. Sherman

poet, was born in Northampton County, North Carolina, a slave of William Horton; the names of his parents are unknown. As a boy he moved with his master's household to Chatham County, where he tended cows on the farm. Horton's teenage pleasures, he later wrote, were “singing lively tunes” and “hearing people read” (Horton, iv), and he taught himself to read, first learning the alphabet from an old spelling book. He acquired an extraordinary vocabulary and the forms, topics, and styles of his verse from reading the New Testament, Wesley's hymnal, and books given to him by University of North Carolina (UNC) students.

In his early twenties, now the slave of William's son, James Horton, George avoided the manual labor he disliked by walking eight miles from the farm to Chapel Hill on weekends to sell fruit and his poems. From about 1830 on he hired ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

George Moses Horton, who was enslaved for most of his life, has been called the first professional black poet in America. Even as a slave, Horton made money by composing poems for students at the University of North Carolina and became the first African American in the South to publish a book, receiving local fame as “The Colored Bard of North Carolina.” But Horton's creative potential was continually frustrated by the limits on his freedom.

Horton was the property of three generations of the same North Carolina family before Emancipation in 1865. He had no formal education, but began creating poetry by composing verses in his head. His earliest patrons, university students, commissioned him to compose love poems for their sweethearts. Horton had not yet learned to write, but he dictated, the students transcribed, and he was paid in money and books.

Horton s talents were eventually noticed by ...

Article

Roy E. Finkenbine

Born into bondage in Northampton County, North Carolina, George Moses Horton was the sixth of ten children by different fathers born to his mother, a slave of the tobacco farmer William Horton. When he was about three, his master moved to nearby Chatham County. His early years were spent tending cattle on the farm there, although he gained a reputation for his composition of “lively tunes.” He continued to be the property of various members of the Horton family until the Civil War.

After reaching adulthood Horton enjoyed unusual freedom of movement often walking the eight miles to nearby Chapel Hill He became a regular visitor at the University of North Carolina and was befriended by both university officials and students who viewed his oratorical acrostic and rhyming skills as a curiosity They paid him to compose poems often on matters of romance or current affairs Soon Caroline Lee ...

Article

Eulogized as one whose “fluidity of … speech captured all around her,” Lucy Terry Prince is probably the first African American poet. Prince's single surviving poem, “Bars Fight,” is the chronicle of a Native American raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1746. It was not published, however, until 1855 by Josiah Gilbert in his History of Western Massachusetts.

Born in West Africa, enslaved, and brought to Rhode Island, Prince was sold at the age of five to a Massachusetts resident, Ebenezer Wells. Baptized soon after, she was taught to read and write, skills that enhanced her poetic ability as well as her later skill at oratorical argument. At age sixteen, she was witness to an Indian raid in a field outside of Deerfield known as “The Bars,” and chronicled the experience in a poem that was hailed as an accurate description of the event.

While her reputation ...

Article

Jan Furman

Until the archival work of David R. Proper, important details of Lucy Terry Prince’s life were undocumented and guesses about them were inaccurate. Unfortunately, gaps in her biography persist, but the information that is available reveals that Prince led a remarkable life as an advocate, devoted mother, wife, and poet.

It seems certain that Lucy Terry was born in Africa, enslaved there, transported first to Bristol, Rhode Island, and later to Enfield, Connecticut, when she was about five years old. Terry’s surname suggests that she was probably first purchased by Samuel Terry, a linen weaver and prominent landowner in Enfield and a year later, by some means not clear, became the property of Ebenezer Wells, an innkeeper in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Wells and his wife, Abigail, were childless. Records show that Wells had her baptized in his home on 15 June 1735 Lucy Terry remained in slavery ...

Article

Caryn E. Neumann

Lucy Terry Prince, also known as Lucy Bijah and Bijah's Luce, was born in Africa, probably along the western coast, in about 1730. Information about Lucy's parentage is unknown. Slave traders acquired her, possibly through kidnapping, when she was a very small child. At the age of about five, Lucy was transported to the bustling seaport of Newport, Rhode Island, and purchased by Ensign Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Befitting the religious origins of the Bay Colony, Massachusetts required a day of rest on the Sabbath and encouraged slaveholders to promote Christianity among their slaves. Either responding to state pressure or out of his own religious beliefs, Wells pushed Lucy to become a Christian. He had her baptized on 15 June 1735 and made sure that she attended church regularly although following the customs of the day she was seated far away from white parishioners in ...

Article

William L. Andrews

Lucy Terry was the creator of the earliest known work of literature by an African American. Her poem, “Bar's Fight,” created when the poet was sixteen years old, records an Indian ambush of two white families on 25 August 1746 in a section of Deerfield, Massachusetts, known as “the Bars,” a colonial word for meadows. Composed in rhymed tetrameter couplets and probably designed to be sung, Terry's ballad was preserved in the memories of local singers until it was published in Josiah Holland's History of Western Massachusetts in 1855. Although Terry had grown up a slave in Deerfield, “Bar's Fight” conveys genuine sympathy for the white men and women who died in the skirmish.

Lucy Terry was born in Africa, kidnapped as an infant, and sold into slavery in Rhode Island. In 1735 when she was about five years old she became the property of Ensign ...

Article

Anthony Gerzina

first known African American poet, was born in Africa. The facts of her early years are not known with certainty. But, as best as can be determined, she was brought to New England about 1729 through the port of Boston by Barbados-based slave merchants. As the property of Samuel Terry, a Harvard-educated aspiring minister, she lived initially in Mendon, Massachusetts, west of Boston and perhaps in Union in northeast Connecticut. She was sold to Ebenezer Wells, a Deerfield, Massachusetts, merchant and tavern holder, sometime before 15 June 1735 which is the date of her baptism Her baptism record notes her as servant to Ebenezer Wells as slaves were often euphemistically described in New England Many Deerfield slave owners had their slaves baptized during the Great Awakening and Terry s baptism proved the beginning of her lifelong religiosity She was admitted to the fellowship of the Church ...

Article

Floyd Ogburn

newspaper correspondent and storyteller, was born David Bryant Fulton in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of Benjamin Fulton, a public carter, and Lavinia Robinson Thorne. The oldest of fourteen children of Hamlet and Amy Robinson, Lavinia grew up a slave in Robeson County, North Carolina, in the absence of her parents but under the “indulgence of her master” (Thorne, Eagle Clippings, 7), who taught her to read the Bible at a very young age. At fourteen Lavinia married Benjamin. Raising ten children, Benjamin and Lavinia settled in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1867.

In 1887, after completing his education at the segregated Williston School and Gregory Normal Institute in Wilmington, Thorne moved to New York City but found it difficult to find meaningful employment. He obtained work in 1888 as a porter for the Pullman Palace Car Company spending nine years at the ...

Article

John C. Shields

the first African American and the second woman to publish a book in the colonies on any subject. Phillis Wheatley was born, by her own testimony, in Gambia, West Africa, about the year 1753. Unlike her African American contemporary, Venture Smith, who devoted over a third of his 1798Narrative to a detailed recollection of his African homeland, Wheatley, who was seized and taken into slavery when seven or eight years of age, recalled her homeland to her white captors in considerably less detail. While we may never know what memories this remarkable poet and cultivator of the epistolary style shared of her native Africa with her most frequent correspondent and black soulmate, Obour Tanner, we do know that her public memories were at least three.

She did recall the sight of her mother s daily ritual of pouring out water to the sun upon ...

Article

John C. Shields

poet and cultivator of the epistolary writing style, was born in Gambia, Africa, probably along the fertile lowlands of the Gambia River. She was enslaved as a child of seven or eight and sold in Boston to John and Susanna Wheatley on 11 July 1761. The horrors of the Middle Passage likely contributed to her persistent trouble with asthma. The Wheatleys apparently named the girl, who had nothing but a piece of dirty carpet to conceal her nakedness, after the slaver, the Phillis, that transported her.The Wheatleys were more kindly toward Phillis than were most slaveowners of the time, permitting her to learn to read. The poet in Wheatley soon began to emerge. She published her first poem on 21 December 1765 in the Newport Mercury when she was about twelve The poem On Messrs Hussey and Coffin relates how these two gentlemen narrowly escaped drowning ...

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John C. Shields

Phillis Wheatley was the first African American to publish a book and the second American woman to publish a book of poems (Anne Bradstreet was the first). The volume was her collection Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773).