LITERATURE IN THE UNITED STATES 1734-1860
latonya_anim.gif (51382 bytes) This timeline provides a chronology of African-American literature from its inception to the present-day.  Primarily, we document works written by African Americans; however, we also include authors of African descent (e.g., Claude McKay) or white authors (e.g., Harriet Beecher Stowe) whose work made a significant impact on African-American letters.  Although by no means comprehensive, that is, we do not list every piece of writing, the timeline does offer the reader a generous survey of both the canonical or major texts and also the critical but less publicized works.   Our definition of "literature" includes not only fiction but non-fiction, autobiography, newspapers and magazines, as well as speeches.  Whenever possible we have provided links to other websites so that the reader may further research an author's biography or bibliography; in some cases, we have links to an electronic version of a text (for example, Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl).

 

1734-1860
1734

Thomas Bluett, a white resident of Maryland, writes down and publishes Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, the Son of Solomon the High Priest of Boonda in Africa; Who was a Slave about Two Years in Maryland; and afterwards being brought to England, was set free and sent to his native land in the Year 1734 which is a precursor to "true" slave narratives. As the title of the narrative suggests, Job ben Solomon was returned to Senegal once his aristocratic heritage was discovered.

 

1746

Lucy Terry (Prince), a slave, writes "Bars Fight," a commemorative poem recreating the Deerfield Massacre in Massachusetts. This poem is the first known to be written by a black person in the United States and was not published until approximately 100 years later. 

 

 

1760

Briton Hammon’s 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 is published and is regarded as the first work of prose written by a black American. Hammon's Narrative is, in fact, a travelogue of the author's various exploits in England and Nova Scotia.

 

jupiter1761.gif (50423 bytes) 1761

Jupiter Hammon writes his first volume of poetry, An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries. Unlike his black contemporaries, Hammon was born in the United States.

 

 

 

wheatley.gif (145213 bytes) 1767

Phillis Wheatley writes "A Poem by Phillis, A Negro Girl, on the Death of Reverend George Whitefield," her first work, although the poem was not published until 1770.

 

 

1773

Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral is published. It is the first book written by a black in North America and the second published by a woman in North America. (ALSO SEE BLACKS IN GREAT BRITAIN) The book contains 38 poems which reflect Wheatley’s knowledge of the classic Greek, Latin and English poets and forms, as well as her Christian beliefs. More recent scholarship focuses on the African influence in Wheatley's work, particularly the solar imagery and the African lyrical form.

 

1776

Gen. George Washington invites Phillis Wheatley to his Cambridge, MA headquarters to thank her for her poem, "To His Excellency General Washington," dedicated to him.

Minister Lemuel B. Haynes writes an essay, "Liberty Further Extended," now considered to be the first essay overtly protesting slavery.

 

1778
Jupiter Hammon’s "To Miss Phillis Wheatley," a 21-stanza poem, is published.
 

1785

John Marrant, a "free" black, completes and publishes a 40 page narrative, A Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black. The Narrative primarily focuses on Marrant's conversion to Christianity and his conversion of several Cherokee Indians.

 

1787

Jupiter Hammon’s Address to the Negroes of the State of New York is published. In the work, Hammon calls for slaves to be obedient to their masters.

 

 

1790

Joseph Mountain’s Sketches of the Life of Joseph Mountain, a Negro, Who Was Executed at New Haven, on the 20th Day of October, 1790, for a Rape, Committed on the 26th Day of May Last is published in New Haven, CT.

 

 

 

equiano1791.jpg (8405 bytes) 1791

Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself is published in the United States. A two-volume work, it is considered the first major slave narrative in American literature and was translated into several European languages and reprinted several times until and throughout the nineteenth century. Although Equiano embraces Christianity and Englishness, contemporary critics have questioned the seriousness of his conversion and claim that his Christian rhetoric is tongue-in-cheek.

 

 

banneker.gif (49606 bytes) Inventor and scientist Benjamin Banneker writes a letter to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson criticizing Jefferson's racist statements in Notes on the State of Virginia (1787). In Notes Jefferson claims, among other things, that Africans are inferior to whites in both reason and imagination. Banneker reminds Jefferson that his statements appear highly contradictory and hypocritical given that Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence which calls for freedom and equality.

 

1798
Venture Smith’s A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa; but Resident Above Sixty Years in the United States of America; Related by Himself is published in New London, CT.

 

 

 

1808

Richard Allen, founder of the Free African Society and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, writes A Thanksgiving Sermon, Preached January 1, 1808, in St. Thomas's, or the African Episcopal Church, Philadelphia; on Account of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade, the same year that the United States banned the importation of slaves from abroad.

 

 

 

1810

Benjamin Prentiss’s The Blind American Slave, or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brincho is published in St. Albans, VT.

 

George White’s Account of Life, Experience, Travels, and Gospel Labours of George White, an African, Written by Himself and Revised by a Friend is published in New York City.

 

1824

William Grimes’s Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, Written by Himself is published

 

 

1825

Solomon Bayley’s Narrative of Some Remarkable Incidents in the Life of Solomon Bayley, Formerly a Slave in the State of Delaware, North America, Written by Himself is published.

 

 

1828

George Moses Horton, a slave who works as a janitor at the University of North Carolina where his master was the college president, has three of his poems published in the Lancaster Gazette of Massachusetts. Horton’s poetry also appears in Freedom’s Journal this year.

 

William Whipper wrote "Address Before the Colored Reading Society of Philadelphia."

 

 

1829

David Walker publishes the first of three editions of David Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles Together with a Preamble to the Colored Citizens of the World, but in Particular and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. This anti-slavery pamphlet calls on slaves to revolt against their oppressors. Following the publication of Walker’s Appeal, whites placed a bounty on him.

 

Robert Voorhis’s narrative, Life and Adventures of Robert Voorhis, the Hermit of Massachusetts, Who Has Lived Fourteen Years in a Cave, Secluded from Human Society: Comprising an Account of His Birth, Parentage, Sufferings, and Providential Escape from Unjust and Cruel Bondage in Early Life and His Reasons for Becoming a Recluse, Taken from His Own Mouth by Henry Trumbull, and Published for His Benefit, is published.

 

George Moses Horton’s The Hope of Liberty, a book of poetry, is published. One year earlier, a coalition of Northerners and Southerners tried to raise money for Horton’s freedom by sponsoring by the book. In 1837, the book is reprinted twice under the title, Poems by a Slave.

 

 

1831

Nat Turner, preacher and insurrectionist, dictates a narrative, The Confessions of Nat Turner, to Thomas R. Gray, a white man, shortly before he is hanged on November 11th for leading a slave revolt. An estimated 50,000 copies were printed making Confessions the most widely read narrative written by a black American since Equiano’s.

 

 

Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, with a Supplement by the Editor, to Which Is Added the Narrative of Asa-Asa, a Captured African is the first slave narrative published by a black woman in the US.

 

1832

Chloe Spear’s Memoir of Chloe Spear, a Native of Africa, Who Was Enslaved in Childhood: By a "Lady of Boston" is published.

 

 

1833

Noah Calwell W. Cannon's collection of prose and poetry, The Rock of Wisdom, is published.

 

 

1834

Jane Blake’s Memoirs of Margaret Jane Blake is published in Philadelphia, PA.

William Boen’s Anecdotes and Memoirs of William Boen, a Colored Man, Who Lived and Died Near Mount Holly, New Jersey; to Which is Added the Testimony of Friends of Mount Holly Monthly Meeting Concerning Him is published.

 

David Ruggles’s first pamphlet, Extinguisher, Extinguished, is published.

 

 

1835

John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, "My Countrymen in Chains," is published.

 

 

Maria W. Stewart’s Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, a collection of speeches and essays on slavery, women’s rights and racial uplift is published in Boston, MA. Stewart is considered the first black woman political writer.

 

1836
Jarena Lee, one of few female ministers in the AME church, publishes The Life and Religious Experiences of Jarena Lee, a Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel. This autobiography, along with Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel, will popularize the genre of the spiritual narrative.

 

 

 

1837

Moses Roper’s A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery, with a Preface by the Reverend T. Price is published.

 

William Whipper’s essay, "Non-Resistance to Offensive Aggression," is published in the Colored American.

 

Victor Séjour’s first work, a short story, Le Mulatre ("The Mulatto"), is published in La Revue des Colonies. This explicit tale of rape, murder and suicide is published in French and is an early representative of the protest tradition in black American fiction.

 

Rev. Hosea Easton’s A Treatise on the Intellectual Character and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U.S. is published.

 

Freedom’s Journal, the first black American newspaper, begins publication.

 

Robert Purvis writes an 18 page pamphlet, Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens Threatened with Disfranchisement to the People of Pennsylvania, after Pennsylvania adopts a new state constitution which includes a provision which denies free black men the right to vote.

 

 

1838

The American Anti-Slavery Society publishes James Williams’s Narrative of James Williams, an American Slave; Who Was for Several Years a Driver on a Cotton Plantation in Alabama.

 

An escaped slave known only as Joanna publishes Narrative of Joanna, an Emancipated Slave of Surinam (from Stedman’s Narrative of Five Years’ Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam) in Boston, MA.

 

The Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge, one of the few narratives of the life of an early 19th-century free black woman, is published.

 

 

1841

Ann Plato’s Essays, Including Biographies and Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Poetry is published. While Plato is identified as a black American, her poem, "The Native American," suggests that her father is a Native American.

 

 

1842

Lunsford Lane’s The Narrative of Lunsford Lane, Formerly of Raleigh, NC; Embracing an Account of His Early Life, the Redemption by Purchase of Himself and Family from Slavery and His Banishment from the Place of His Birth for the Crime of Wearing a Colored Skin is published in Boston, MA.

 

 

1843

Blacks in New Orleans, LA, begin publishing L’Album Littéraire, Journal des Jeunes Gens, Amateurs de la Littérature, a monthly review in French. The journal includes poems, stories, fables and articles.

 

Light and Truth of Slavery: Aaron’s History of Virginia, New Jersey, and Rhode Island is published.

 

Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United States of America is published.

 

The Mystery begins publication.

 

 

1844

Archer Armstrong’s Compendium of Slavery As It Exists in the Present Day to Which Is Prefixed a Brief View of the Author’s Descent is published.

 

1845
Frederick Douglass’s landmark text, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, is published. The text marks a departure from the many slave narratives which precede it, for Douglass indeed wrote the entire narrative himself, while typically white abolitionists transcribed and edited oral accounts from slaves or former slaves. Narrative contains elements of the spiritual autobiography and the conversion story found in early American literature. Douglass published other autobiographies, including My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and two separate editions of Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, 1892); however, Narrative remains the most widely read and studied.

 

George Moses Horton’s second book, The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, The Colored Bard of North Carolina, is published in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Horton’s poems do not contain an overt anti-slavery posture; rather, Horton makes subtle protests. Horton’s third and final book of poems, Naked Genius, was published in 1865.

 

Under the editorship of Armand Lanusse, a group of Louisiana creoles publish in French Les Cenelles (The Holly Berries), the first anthology of verse by black Americans.

 

 

1846

Lewis and Milton Clarke’s Narratives of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke, Sons of a Soldier of the Revolution, During a Captivity of More than Twenty Years Among the Slaveholders of Kentucky, One of the So-Called Christian States of North America; Dictated by Themselves is published.

 

William Hayden’s Narrative of William Hayden, Containing a Faithful Account of His Travels for a Number of Years, Whilst a Slave in the South, Written by Himself is published.

 

 

1847

Frederick Douglass founds The North Star, a newspaper. In 1851, the paper merged with the Liberty Party Paper and was re-named Frederick Douglass’ Paper.

 

 

1849

Henry Bibb’s Narrative of the Life of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by Himself is published in New York City. Henry Box Brown’s Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery in a Box Three Feet Long, Two Wide, and Two and a Half High, Written from a Statement of facts Made by Himself, With Remarks upon the Remedy for Slavery by Charles Stearns is published in Boston, MA. In the Narrative, Brown recounts his extraordinary escape from slavery in a box.

 

Josiah Henson’s autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, is published. Henson is the reputed prototype of the character Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a white woman. His second book, Truth Stranger than Fiction: Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life, with an Introduction by Mrs. H.B. Stowe was published in 1858.

 

 

1850

Orator Sojourner Truth dictated her autobiography to Olive Gilbert, a white woman. The narrative was reprinted in 1878, according to historian Nell Irvin Painter, under the title Narrative of Sojourner Truth; Bondswoman of Olden Time, with a History of Her Labors and Correspondence Drawn from Her "Book of Life."

 

 

1851

The Colored Man’s Journal begins publication in New York City.

 

 
1852

William Wells Brown’s Three Years in Europe is published and is the first travel book written by a black American

 

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published and sells over 300,000 copies in its first year. The sentimental novel portrays the plight of black American slaves in highly emotional language.

 

Mary Ann Shadd (later Cary), attorney, educator and speaker, publishes A Plea for Emigration to educate US blacks about emigrating to Canada.

 

The Alienated American begins publication in Cleveland, Ohio, with William Howard Day serving as the first editor.

 

Martin R. Delany publishes a manifesto, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, in which he advocates black self-determination and autonomy and he also proposes that blacks emigrate to another country.

 

 

1853

William Wells Brown’s Clotel: Or, The President’s Daughter, A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States is published. Brown used the novel, which describes the fate of the alleged daughter of US President Thomas Jefferson and a slave, to vehemently attack slavery in the United States. Clotel is one of the first novels to address the sexual exploitation that many black American slave women faced.

 

James W. Whitfield’s "America" is published in his book of poetry, America and Other Poems. The poem is a parody of the patriotic hymn, "America the Beautiful," and is an early example of the irony characteristic of black American literature.

 

Frederick Douglass publishes The Heroic Slave, a historical novella, in his newspaper, Frederick Douglass’ Paper. The novella is based on the life of Madison Washington who led a successful slave mutiny in 1841.

 

Mary Ann Shadd (later Cary) becomes the first black American editor of a US newspaper when she is named editor and financier of Provincial Freeman.

 

 

1854

Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects is published by lecturer and poet Frances Ellen Watkins (later Harper). This collection of essays and poems sold more than 10,000 copies and was reprinted at least 20 times. Several scholars have noted that Poems ushered in the tradition of black American protest poetry. In 1861, she became the first black woman to have a short story, "The Two Offers," published.

 

Rev. Elymas Rogers writes a satirical 725-line poem, "The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise Considered."

 

George Vashon, a well-educated attorney, writes "Vincent Ogé," the first narrative, non-lyrical poem by a black American writer in the United States. This epic poem of 139 lines is a tribute to a black revolutionary.

 

 

1855

The Mirror of the Times begins publication in San Francisco, CA, and Melvin Gibbs serves as an editor.

 

 

1856

Rev. James W. C. Pennington publishes The Reasonableness of the Abolition of Slavery, one of his few remaining sermons.

 

The New Orleans Daily is the first black American daily newspaper and also the first black American newspaper in the South.

 

 

1857

Frank J. Webb, a free black man from Philadelphia, PA, publishes The Garies and Their Friends in London, England. The novel deals with the caste system that blacks face.

 

Autobiography of a Female Slave, written by Mattie Griffiths, a white abolitionist, is published. It is one of several fictitious slave narratives (including Richard Hidlreth's The Slave: or, Memoirs of Archy Moore [1836]) that many ardent and well-meaning whites wrote to advance their abolitionist cause.

 

 

1859

Following the publication of Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a Two-Story White House, North, Harriet E. Wilson became the first black American novelist published in the United States. Our Nig is a hybrid of autobiography, fiction and exposé and follows the life of a free black woman in the North during the ante-bellum period. Unfortunately, the novel received little attention until scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discovered the text in 1982.

 

The Anglo African Magazine begins publication in New York City.

 

The Afro-American Magazine, a literary journal, begins publication.

 

Martin R. Delany's first and only novel, Blake, or the Huts of America, appears in serial form in The Anglo-African Magazine.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SOURCES USED

Gates, Henry Louis & Nellie Y. McKay (editors). The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1997.

Harley, Sharon.(editor). The Timetables of African-American History.  Simon & Schuster Press. 1995.

Hill, Patricia Liggins (editor). Call & Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition. Houghton Mifflin. 1998.

Jackson, Blyden. A History of Afro-American Literature: Volume I The Long Beginning, 1746-1895.  Louisiana State University Press. 1989.

Magill, Frank N. (editor). Masterpieces of African-American Literature. Harper Collins. 1992.

Patton, Phil. "Sold on Ice," Esquire. October 1992.

Smith, Valerie (editor). African American Writers. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1991.