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Stanley A. Ransom, Jr.’s new book America’s First Black Poet; Jupiter Hammon of Long Island (Outskirts Press, Inc., 2020) is a collection of poems and writings of Jupiter Hammon, who spent most of his life as a slave in Lloyd Neck, Long Island.
With the Christmas Day, 1760, publication of the 88 line broadside poem “An Evening Thought,” Jupiter Hammon is believed to have become the first published African American poet. A natural intelligence and a deep religious fervor led Hammon to publish additional poetry and prose, and his “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York,” which first appeared in 1787, was later reprinted and distributed by the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
Jupiter Hammon spent most of his long life on Lloyd Neck, later a part of Huntington, Long Island, where he was a slave to the Lloyd family. Some of his most productive years were spent in Hartford during the American Revolution.
This collection of Hammon’s poems and writings includes two newly discovered poems found in the New York Historical Society Library and in the Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University. Sections of the book include literary analysis of Hammon’s poems accompanied by explanations of their historical context and frequent biblical references. Hammon is also known to have used several codes and indirect ways to let his fellow slaves know his real feelings about slavery.
Stanley Austin Ransom Jr. is former Director of Huntington, NY, Public Library and a student of Long Island History. A past President of the Long Island Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, he is a descendant of Solomon Stoddard, a seventeenth century minister quoted by Jupiter Hammon.
He first became interested in the Huntington Poet through the work of author Oscar Wegelin. In 1970 he proposed that October 17th, Jupiter Hammon’s birthday in 1711, be celebrated as Black Poetry Day, “to recognize the contributions of African American poets to American life and culture and to honor Jupiter Hammon, first black in America to publish his own verse.”
Ransom is a US Army Veteran of the Second World War. He graduated from Yale University in 1951 and from Columbia University Graduate Library Service School in 1953. He has a biracial family and is a librarian, folk musician and storyteller.
Editor’s Note: Preservation Long Island has announced The Jupiter Hammon Project, an initiative that aims to expand interpretive and educational programming at the Joseph Lloyd Manor, an 18th-century Long Island manor house owned and operated by Preservation Long Island (PLI).
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