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

Briton Hammon


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Hammon’s voyage begins on Christmas Day, thus signaling to readers that a new life of temporary freedom and personal discovery is about to commence for the adventurous slave. Soon Hammon’s experiences at sea reveal that his journey is one of harrowing transition from innocence to maturity, one in which, as he learns about himself and the world, he is tested for strength of character.

At the beginning of his story, Hammon illustrates his naïveté in the account of how he and his companions are easily deceived when they are stranded off the coast of Florida. Hammon is first fooled by the appearance of the Indian canoes, which look like rocks. Then, when the canoes begin to move, the shipwrecked men see the English colors hoisted in one of them, and they think that they are about to be rescued by friendly forces. The men advance and fall into the hands of the Indians.

To stress how his perilous adventures chasten him and test his character, Hammon graphically depicts the terrors of his Indian and Spanish captivities. The Indians threaten to roast him alive, and he lives in fear until he falls into the hands of the Spanish Catholics in Havana. During his years of captivity in Cuba, Hammon is able to withstand the threat to his Protestant faith posed by the Catholics. He gives some indication that he views their religion as being decadent and materialistic when he describes his service to the bishop. Hammon makes a point of mentioning how the bishop is carried about in a large chair lined with crimson velvet as he goes about the island confirming and baptizing people in exchange for huge sums of money.

Even though his life is comfortable in the governor’s castle, Hammon makes several attempts to flee. When he finally succeeds in escaping, he enlists for service aboard various ships, where at times he is thrown in the midst of perilous sea battles. In depicting his dangerous experiences, Hammon is stressing the testing and strengthening effects upon both his character and his spiritual condition.

Although Hammon’s short work can be termed a spiritual autobiography, it does not give a picture of a self-scrutinizing, conscience-stricken man looking inward for his soul’s deliverance. Hammon is concerned with factual details and outward events. He sees such events as signs of God’s plan for his soul’s suffering and deliverance, and he accepts life and its vicissitudes (apparently including Hammon’s own status as a slave) as events justifiably ordained by a...

(The entire section is 1026 words.)