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  • “An Essay on Slavery”: An Unpublished Poem by Jupiter Hammon
  • Cedrick May (bio) and Julie McCown (bio)

A previously unknown poem written by Jupiter Hammon of Long Island is one of the most important discoveries related to this eighteenth-century poet and slave in nearly a century.1 The poem, entitled “An Essay on Slavery, with Submission to Divine Providence, Knowing That God Rules over All Things,” directly addresses questions concerning slavery and is by far the most outspoken antislavery statement by this often-neglected eighteenth-century writer.

Jupiter Hammon was owned by the Lloyd family of Lloyd’s Neck, Long Island. The Lloyds were wealthy and influential merchants and agriculturalists with commercial and religious ties throughout New England and Great Britain. Jupiter Hammon was born into slavery on October 17, 1711, at the newly constructed Lloyd Manor House, which had just been completed a month prior (Scott and Klaffky 9,12). Hammon would live a long life, serving three generations of the Lloyd family, including his first master Henry Lloyd (1685–1763); Henry’s son Joseph Lloyd (1716–80); and finally John Lloyd II (1745–92), Joseph’s nephew, to whom Hammon was bequeathed after Joseph’s suicide in 1780. John Lloyd’s sister was Sarah Lloyd, who married James Hillhouse on January 1, 1779.

James Hillhouse was a New Haven, Connecticut, lawyer and real estate developer who served as an officer during the Revolutionary War and soon after became one of the new nations’s most sucessful and powerful politicians. He served three terms in the US Congress and then served in the US Senate from May 1796 to June 1810, when he resigned. Afterward he spent the last ten years of his life as treasurer of Yale College (Van Slyck 52). It is through the marriage of Sarah Lloyd to James Hillhouse that the Lloyd family of Long Island becomes strongly connected to the Hillhouse family of New Haven. Sarah, James Hillhouse’s new bride, however, died from medical complications suffered during the delivery of their first child (who also died soon after birth) in November of the same year they were married [End Page 457] (Barck 886–87). James Hillhouse, nevertheless, remained in constant contact with the Lloyd family and later married Sarah’s cousin, Rebecca Woolsey, in 1782. Rebecca Woolsey was the daughter of Rebecca Lloyd and Melancthon Taylor Woolsey (Bowen xii–xiii). The strong friendships and familial ties can be easily traced throughout the correspondences between the Lloyd, Woolsey, and Hillhouse families beginning most prominently after the marriage of John Lloyd to Sara Woolsey in 1741.

It is clear from numerous letters spanning the course of many years, from 1775 into the 1790s, that Jupiter Hammon spent significant amounts of time in Connectcut, very likely spending much of that time at the Hill-house home in New Haven, especially during the years of the American Revolution when British forces occupied Long Island. Numerous brief mentions of “Jupiter” and “faithful Jupiter” appear in the letters of the Hill-house Family Papers (Stark et al.), written by various members of the Hill-house, Woolsey, and Lloyd families. Most of these mentions can be found within the “Miscellaneous Papers” of the collection, which spans the years 1762–1931.

The new poem was discovered among the Hillhouse Family Papers at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library. Prior to the discovery of this new poem, the last piece of writing by Jupiter Hammon to be found was a broadside entitled “An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penetential Cries,” uncovered in 1915 by Oscar Wegelin among the holdings of the New York Historical Society. The Wegelin discovery appears to be Hammon’s first published work, its initial appearance in print dated December 25, 1760. That poem focuses on Hammon’s religious convictions concerning Christian salvation, a topic that fits the majority of his writings.2 However, this most recent discovery appears to be among Hammon’s last compositions before his death and takes as its subject the morality of slavery, a much more focused and politically charged topic that appears to have expanded in interest for Hammon as he grew older.

“An Essay on Slavery” is dated November 10...