Monday, August 29, 2016

First black poet in America

The earliest known poem attributed to a black poet in America is “The Bars Fight,” an account of a shootout between Abenaki Indians and English colonists in Deerfield, MA, in 1746.

"The Bars Fight" is compactly rhymed and matter-of-fact—it memorializes five colonists and two Indians who died in the Abenaki attack on August 25, 1746, in Deerfield, at the time a small town on the colonial frontier.

The poet was Lucy Terry Prince, an African woman who had been enslaved as a child. Later in her life she resumed being a free woman, married, raised a family and became a minor celebrity based on her glib and forthright capacity for storytelling and expressing herself in public. Lucy was a literate woman who may have composed her poem and recited it orally—it first appeared in print in 1819 in the published version of a lecture, only two years before she died.

The poem survives in a recognizable iambic tetrameter format. It can’t be determined how much of the written version preserves the author’s original words, but we may presume it is largely accurate because Lucy’s verbal talents were well known and widely recognized, and we can speculate that many people heard her personal recitation. The poem’s title refers to the location of the fighting: a meadow in Deerfield then known as “The Bars.”

The Bars Fight

Lucy Terry Prince
August, twas the twenty-fifth,
Seventeen houndred forty-six,
The Indians did in ambush lay, 
Some very valiant men to slay
Twas nigh unto Sam Dickinson's mill,
The Indians there five men did kill.
The names of whom I'll not leave out,
Samuel Allen like a hero foute,
And though he was so brave and bold,
His face no more shall we behold.
Eleazer Hawks was killed outright,
Before he had time to fight,
Before he did the Indians see,
Was shot and killed immediately.
Oliver Amsden he was slain, 
Which caused his friends much grief pain.
Simeon Amsden they found dead
Not many rods from Oliver's head.
Adonijah Gillett, we do hear,
Did lose his life which was so dear.
John Sadler fled across the water,
And thus escaped the dreadful slaughter.
Eunice Allen see the Indians comeing
And hoped to save herself by running:
And had not her petticoats stopt her,
The awful creatures had not cotched her,
Not tommyhawked her on the head,
And left her on the ground for dead.
Young Samuel Allen, Oh! lack-a-day!
Was taken and carried to Canada. 

By Lucy Terry Prince (c. 1730-1821)

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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