Briton Hammon Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Briton Hammon is credited with having written the first slave narrative autobiography in America. The complete title was A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro Man,—Servant to General Winslow of Marshfield, in New-England; Who Returned to Boston, After Having Been Absent Almost Thirteen Years. Although the work is only fourteen pages long and marked by awkward sentence construction, it relates many thrilling adventures. The work belongs to the tradition of spiritual autobiography, and critics have used Hammon’s personal account to trace the development of the slave narrative genre in American literature.

Little is known of Briton Hammon’s life beyond what he reveals in his narrative. In 1747, he received his master’s permission to sign aboard a vessel bound for Jamaica, which began its voyage prophetically on Christmas Day. On the return journey, however, the ship was wrecked on a reef off the Florida coast. There, Hammon and his fellow crew members were attacked by American Indians. Everyone was killed except Hammon, who was taken prisoner, tortured, and told that he would be roasted alive.

After five weeks of captivity, Hammon was rescued by a Spanish captain and taken to Cuba, where he was placed in bondage and forced to serve in the governor’s castle in Havana. One year later, a gang kidnapped him for service aboard a ship bound for Spain. This time, Hammon resisted. As a result, he was taken to a dungeon and confined there for more than four and a half years. At the end of that time, an Englishwoman learned of his plight and brought about his release.

After being released, Hammon was forced to return to the governor’s service. Later, however, the governor sent him to assist the Catholic bishop. Hammon, a Protestant, found that the bishop was pleasure-loving and...

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Briton Hammon Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Andrews, William L. “Voices of the First Fifty Years, 1760-1810.” In To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986. Deals with Hammon’s deference to his white readers, a characteristic trait in early African American narrative autobiography.

Carretta, Vincent, and Philip Gould, eds. Genius in Bondage: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. Includes the essays “Race, Redemption, and Captivity in the Narratives of Briton Hammon and John Marrant,” by Karen A. Weyler, and “Surprizing Deliverance? Slavery and Freedom, Language and Identity in the Narrative of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man,” by Robert Desrochers, Jr.

Costanzo, Angelo. “Black Autobiographers as Biblical Types.” In Surprizing Narrative: Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of Black Autobiography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. Discusses Hammon’s portrayal of himself as a biblical hero and examines the hidden meanings within his narrative.

Foster, Frances Smith. Witnessing Slavery: The Development of the Ante-bellum Slave Narratives. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Discusses Hammon’s work as a precursor of the slave narrative genre.

Starling, Marion Wilson. The Slave Narrative: Its Place in American History. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1988. Places Hammon’s account in the tradition of autobiographical slave writing and its development.

Williams, Kenny J. “A New Home in a New Land.” In They Also Spoke: An Essay on Negro Literature in America, 1787-1930. Nashville: Townsend Press, 1970. Relates Hammon’s personal story to the early slave narratives published in the eighteenth century.