Skip to Content

Rare Insight into the Life of an Enslaved Individual on Long Island Through Jupiter Hammon’s Poems

LLOYD NECK, N.Y. — The terrors of slavery are beyond comprehension.

In the 18th century, a man held in bondage on Long Island provided a rare insight into his thoughts on slavery and liberty through poetry.

Introducing us to Jupiter Hammon, the initial Black American poet to have his work published, is Carolyn Gusoff from CBS New York.

Situated on the elevated grounds of Long Island’s North Shore stands a 260-year-old estate known as the Joseph Lloyd Manor. This grand residence was constructed on a vast plantation in what is now called Lloyd Neck. The affluent Lloyd family, known for their mercantile pursuits, resided in opulence.

Andrew Tharler, the education director of Preservation Long Island, remarked, “Many of the architectural elements in this chamber were designed to showcase the wealth of the Lloyds.”

However, hidden from sight at the rear of the house were the sleeping quarters of enslaved individuals.

Tharler noted, “The ceiling in this room is lower, and the ambiance darker.”

Among the numerous enslaved individuals serving the Lloyds, one individual stood out for his remarkable actions. Jupiter Hammon, born into servitude in 1711, engaged in the composition of poetry.

In a poignant poem, he expressed:

The day commenced dark and gloomy, When slavery’s chains took hold, All notions of humility vanished, As man enslaved man, so cold.

Hammon acquired literacy skills as reading and writing were not prohibited in New York, where one out of every five individuals was enslaved, with the sole exception being the Bible.

Melissa Chioma Rousseau, a board member of Preservation Long Island, stated, “Hammon’s writings conveyed the message that slavery was a sinful act that needed to be endured… His later works highlighted the cruelty of slavery.”

Although the Lloyds published his religious writings, they chose not to release his “Essay on Slavery,” a direct critique scribed in his own hand, offering a rare perspective from someone considered mere property:

Though enslaved we may be, Under man’s oppressive hand, We must strive to be truly free, And always do what we can.

Lauren Brincat, a curator at Preservation Long Island, remarked, “Despite living in a system that aimed to dehumanize him, Hammon asserted his identity and humanity.”

Poet Malik Work breathed vitality into Hammon’s verses, emphasizing the delicate balance he maintained in condemning slavery while relying on his captors to disseminate his poetry to the world.

In his message to enslaved New Yorkers, Hammon envisioned a future devoid of racial or enslavement-based reproach in heaven.

“Slavery, as he saw it, was a human-created sin, not ordained by God,” added Brincat.

For years, visitors to the historical site only heard tales of the influential Lloyd family, with little mention of the enslaved individuals who resided there.

Chioma Rousseau recalled, “It was as if the enslaved were an afterthought… Let’s move on to the next room.”

Today, Hammon’s words resonate with visitors. The initiative by Preservation Long Island, developed over years with community involvement, narrates the stories of generations forced into servitude.

Chioma Rousseau emphasized, “Our aim is to amplify the silenced voices of the enslaved.”

Work reflected on Hammon’s enduring legacy, noting, “He likely anticipated that centuries later, his words would still echo… A testament to the resilience of the human spirit.”

Hammon’s longevity was remarkable, reaching the age of 90 during a time when the life expectancy of enslaved individuals was under 50. He penned six poems and three essays, with the potential for more undiscovered works.

In the 18th century, Hammon and Phyllis Wheatley were the only two enslaved African Americans whose writings were published. While Wheatley’s works are more renowned, Hammon’s contributions remain significant.