A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man Analysis

Briton Hammon

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Briton Hammon’s narrative is the first known slave autobiography in American literature. Hammon dictated his factual story to a writer who probably recorded the account in almost the exact way Hammon delivered it. The narrative style is plain and straightforward and marked by many awkward and ungrammatical sentences.

The slave’s story is only fourteen pages long and, as Hammon himself states, deals mostly with matters of fact. His story is interesting, however, because he describes exciting adventures resulting from his captivities at the hands of Indians and Spaniards. Furthermore, his work is related to spiritual autobiography and contains many biblical references and quotations. Hammon constantly thanks the Lord for delivering him from the dangers of captivity.

Published in Boston, Hammon’s brief account covers his experiences from 1747 to 1760. With his master’s consent, the loyal Hammon signs aboard a vessel bound for Jamaica. After loading up with wood in Jamaica, the ship heads back, but it soon meets with disaster when it is wrecked on a Florida reef. A boat with nine men aboard, including Hammon, is sent out to reach the shore, but a large band of Indians in twenty canoes surprises the sailors. The Indians capture them and then proceed to attack the ship and kill the captain and remaining crew members. Hammon, the sole survivor, is taken prisoner. The Indians treat him cruelly and threaten to roast him alive; but after five...

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A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

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. Discusses why Hammon found it necessary to defer to his white readers, and explains how this trait of deference characterizes early African American autobiography.

Costanzo, Angelo. “Black Autobiographers as Biblical Types.” In Surprizing Narrative: Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of Black Autobiography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Examines how Hammon portrays himself as a type of biblical hero. Also deals with the possibility of hidden meanings existing within Hammon’s narrative account.

Foster, Frances Smith. Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-bellum Slave Narratives. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Discusses Hammon’s account as a precursor of the slave narrative. Stresses that Hammon concentrates on presenting himself as a black person with commendable religious and character attributes.

Starling, Marion Wilson. The Slave Narrative: Its Place in American History. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1988. Contains scattered comments on Hammon’s work dealing with its appearance at a time when similar sensational accounts were being published and avidly read. Starling’s investigative research into slave narrative literature, which she completed in 1946, was the first of its kind. She gives the reader a sense of where Hammon fits in the line of the slave narrative’s development. Her liberal definition of what can be called a slave narrative, however, allows her to consider other kinds of slave texts, and thus Starling does not claim that Hammon’s work is the first of its kind.

Williams, Kenny J. “A New Home in a New Land.” In They Also Spoke: An Essay on Negro Literature in America, 1787-1930. Nashville, Tenn.: Townsend Press, 1970. Notes the loose construction, simple expression, and pervasive spiritual interpretation of Hammon’s adventure story. Other chapters in the book deal extensively with the slave-narrative structure and prose style.