Early African-American Poets

Who was the first black American poet?

In 1746 Lucy Terry Prince (c. 1730–1821), a slave and orator, was the first black American poet. “Bars Fight,” written this year (her only known poem), was inspired by an Indian ambush of haymakers in the Bars, a small plateau near Deerfield, Massachusetts. It was not published until 1855, in Josiah Gilbert Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts. Terry was kidnapped as an infant in Africa and brought to Rhode Island. In 1756 Terry married Abijah Prince and obtained her freedom. She is also noted for her determined, if unsuccessful, attempt to persuade Williams College (Massachusetts) to accept her son as a student—she is reported to have argued before the board of trustees for three hours.

A slave to merchant John Wheatley of Boston, Phillis Wheatley was the first black person to publish a book of poetry in America.


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