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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   



7. Slavery and
Freedom


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Lorenzo
Asisara
- Lydia Maria
Child
- William & Ellen Craft
- Frederick
Douglass
- Briton Hammon
- Helen Hunt
Jackson
- Harriet Jacobs
- Abraham Lincoln
- Sorrow Songs
- Harriet Beecher
Stowe
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Briton Hammon (fl. 1760)

Havana Harbor
[6830] Peter Canot, A View of the Entrance of the Harbour of the Havana, Taken from within the Wrecks (1764), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-105952].

Briton Hammon Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Briton Hammon's "Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro Man," published in Boston in 1760, is generally recognized as the earliest published autobiography by an African American. Composed in the tradition of the popular Indian captivity genre, Hammon's narrative tells an exciting tale of travel, shipwreck, bondage among Native American and Spanish captors, and daring escapes. Unfortunately, no details of Hammon's life are known beyond those recorded in the "Narrative." Although he does not discuss his race within the body of the text-only the title identifies him as a "Negro Man"--he does refer to himself as a "servant" and makes frequent mention of his "master." Thus, while it is unclear whether Hammon was held as a slave or worked as a servant, it is evident that he occupied a subordinate position within colonial society. In some ways, the "Narrative" reinforces traditional ideals of servitude as a benevolent institution: Hammon seems delighted when he is finally reunited with his "good old master" and happily returns to Boston with him. But Hammon's text also implicitly critiques slavery by figuring human captivity as a "barbarous" and "inhuman" practice that should be resisted.

Hammon's "Narrative" recounts the experiences of a person of marginal social status, someone whose life usually would have gone unrecorded. Sometimes viewed as a hybrid of an Indian captivity and slave narrative, Hammon's story is complicated by the fact that when he is finally redeemed from captivity, it is into a condition of servitude rather than of freedom. Ironically, he may actually have experienced greater freedom among the Native Americans and Spanish than he would have after returning to Boston with his master.


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