There are many features of this artifact that merit mention, but the most important for historical purposes is the shift in Hammon’s thinking about the nature of slavery itself. We know from his writings that his masters raised and educated him under devout Calvinist principles that advocated the compatibility of slavery with Christianity. (His masters later became connected by marriage to the Hillhouse family of New Haven, which is how the poem ended up at Yale.) In his previous publications, Hammon suggests a predestinarian belief that since slavery existed, it had to be part of God’s will, and therefore slaves were bound to obey their masters. But “An Essay on Slavery,” written in 1786, declares unambiguously that slavery is a manmade sin, not the will of God, and then proceeds to celebrate the eventual end of the institution of human bondage:
“An Essay on Slavery” is dated November 10, 1786, which meansthat it was likely composed around the same time as his most famouspiece of writing, the...
Essay on slavery . Order Essays Online
Jill Lepore's masterly essay on slavery in British New York counters the notion of a kind of Hudson River School prequel to the Southern plantation and at the same time gives a close-up view of conditions. While New York "was second only to Charleston, South Carolina, in its proportion of slaves in an urban population," she writes, in 1703 the average New York slave owner had only 2.4 slaves, and "unlike large rural slave plantations, where slaves lived with their families in slave quarters well apart from whites, New York City slaves slept in the attics and cellars of their owners' houses, or in 'Negro kitchens,' and worked all day alongside whites as servants, skilled artisans and day laborers." Propinquity led to friction: there were two apparent slave revolts in Manhattan in the 18th century, and while it's impossible to know for sure how much of the hubbub surrounding the one in 1741 was dreamed up by whites, Lepore says the city's punishing slave code was a recipe for rebellion.