David R. Proper


Much in the achievements of Jupiter Hammon of Long Island and Lucy Terry Prince of Massachusetts and Vermont offers food for comparison. The pioneer black poet and poetess share race and literary priority as well as social status as chattel property in 18th century America. Hammon has already received a measure of recognition as the first published Afro-American poet, with his broadside An Evening Thought; Salvation by Christ With Penetential Cries, in 1761. Hammon's fame, nevertheless, rests on but seven poems and four prose pieces discovered eighty-seven years ago.

Lucy Terry Prince, on the other hand, is credited with but a single poem, composed fourteen years before Hammon and published 141 years ago, although not until recently recognized as the first poetry by any black American. Both Hammon and Prince, however, have been overshadowed by Phillis Wheatley whose precocity attracted attention in her own time and won for her contemporary literary recognition here and abroad.

There are, it seems, some differences of opinion even among scholars about where the study of black written poetry begins.