Black American Firsts of the 18th Century

By the 18th century, the 13 colonies were growing in population. To support this growth, Africans were bought to the colonies to be sold into enslavement. Being in bondage caused many to respond in various ways. 

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Black American Firsts in the 18th Century

Lucy Prince, Anthony Benezet and Absalom Jones
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Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Terry Prince, who were both stolen from Africa and sold into enslavement, used poetry to express their experiences. Jupiter Hammon, never achieved freedom in his lifetime but use poetry as well to expose an end to enslavement. 

Others such as those involved in the Stono Rebellion fought for their freedom physically. 

At the same time, a small yet vital group of freed Black Americans would begin to establish organizations in response to racism and enslavement. 

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Fort Mose: The First Black American Settlement

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In 1738,  Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose) is established by freedom seekers. Fort Mose would be considered the first permanent Black American settlement in the Americas. 

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Stono Rebellion: September 9, 1739

Stono Rebellion
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The Stono Rebellion takes place on September 9, 1739. It is the first major revolt by enslaved people in South Carolina. An estimated 40 White and 80 Black Americans are killed during the revolt. 

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Lucy Terry: First Black American to Compose a Poem

Lucy Terry
Public Domain

 In 1746 Lucy Terry recited her ballad "Bars Fight" and became known as the first Black American woman to compose a poem. 

When Prince died in 1821, her obituary read, “the fluency of her speech captivated all around her.” Throughout Prince’s life, she used the power of her voice to retell stories and defend the rights of her family and their property.

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Jupiter Hammon: First Black American Published Poet

Jupiter Hammon
Public Domain

 In 1760, Jupiter Hammon published his first poem, “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries.” The poem was not only Hammon's first published work, but it was also the first to be published by a Black American. 

As one of the founders of the Black American literary tradition, Jupiter Hammon published several poems and sermons. 

Although enslaved, Hammon supported the idea of freedom and was a member of the African Society during the Revolutionary War

In 1786, Hammon even presented “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York.” In his address, Hammon said, “If we should ever get to Heaven we shall find nobody to reproach us for being Black, or for being slaves.” Hammon’s address was printed several times by North American 18th-century anti-enslavement groups such as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. 

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Anthony Benezet Opens First School For Black American Children

Anthony Benezet
Public Domain

Quaker and anti-enslavement activist Anthony Benezet founded the first free school for Black American children in the colonies. Opened in Philadelphia in 1770, the school was called the Negro School at Philadelphia. 

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Phillis Wheatley: First Black American Woman to Publish a Collection of Poetry

Phillis Wheatley
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When Phillis Wheatley's  Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral  was published in 1773, she became the second Black American and the first Black American woman to publish a collection of poetry.

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Prince Hall: Founder of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge

Prince Hall, Founder of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge
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In 1784, Prince Hall established the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in Boston. The organization was founded after he and other Black American men were barred from joining a local masonry because they were Black Americans. 

The organization is the first lodge of Black American Freemasonry in the world. It is also the first organization in the United States with a mission to improve social, political and economic opportunities in society.

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Absalom Jones: Co-Founder of the Free African Society and Religious Leader

Absalom Jones, co-founder of the Free African Society and Religious Leader
Public Domain

 In 1787, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen established the Free African Society (FAS). The purpose of the Free African Society was to develop a mutual aid society for Black Americans in Philadelphia. 

By 1791, Jones was holding religious meetings through the FAS and was petitioning to establish an Episcopal Church for Black Americans independent of White control. By 1794, Jones founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. The church was the first Black American church in Philadelphia. 

In 1804, Jones has ordained an Episcopal Priest, making him the first Black American to hold such a title. 

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Richard Allen: Co-Founder of the Free African Society and Religious Leader

Richard Allen
Public Domain

 When Richard Allen died in 1831, David Walker proclaimed that he was one of “the greatest divines who has lived since the apostolic age.” 

Allen was enslaved from birth and purchased his own freedom in 1780.

Within seven years, Allen and Absalom Jones had established the Free African Society, the first Black American mutual aid society in Philadelphia.

In 1794, Allen became the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

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Jean Baptiste Point du Sable: First Settler of Chicago

Jean Baptist Point du Sable
Public Domain

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is known as the first settler of Chicago around 1780. 

Although very little is known about du Sable’s life before settling in Chicago, it is believed that he was a native of Haiti.

As early as 1768, Point du Sable ran his business as a fur trader at a post in Indiana. But by 1788, Point du Sable had settled in present-day Chicago with his wife and family. The family ran a farm that was considered prosperous.

Following the death of his wife, Point du Sable relocated to Louisiana. He died in 1818. 

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Benjamin Banneker: The Sable Astronomer

Benjamin Bannekerwoodcut

Benjamin Banneker was known as the "Sable Astronomer."

In 1791, Banneker was working with surveyor Major Andrew Ellicot to design Washington D.C. Banneker worked as Ellicot's technical assistant and determined where the surveying of the nation's capital should begin. 

From 1792 to 1797, Banneker published a yearly almanac. Known as "Benjamin Banneker's Almanacs," the publication included Banneker's astronomical calculations, medical information, and literary works. 

The almanacs were bestsellers throughout  Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia. 

In addition to Banneker's work as an astronomer, he was also a noted North American 18th-century Black activist. 

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Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "Black American Firsts of the 18th Century." ThoughtCo, Feb. 9, 2021, Lewis, Femi. (2021, February 9). Black American Firsts of the 18th Century. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "Black American Firsts of the 18th Century." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).