Lucy Terry Prince

Published: 7/21/2021 3:20:26 PM

Sharp-eyed readers of the July 10 Recorder article on the Lucy Terry Prince Day in Deerfield, Margaret Freeman and the Rev. Dr. Smith-Penniman, are correct. Phillis Wheatley is indeed the first published in print African American poet, not Lucy Terry.

The Recorder’s headline for the article was in error leading into the story with the words “Lucy Terry Prince Day to celebrate first published Black poet.” Staff writer DomenicPoli, who interviewed me and did further research on his own, early on in his article accurately identified Lucy Terry as “the first known African American poet in English literature…”

She is (at this time — who knows what future researchers may find) the first documented African American poet dating from her 1746 poem composed at the time of events remembered as The Bars Fight, Deerfield’s last attack by Native Americans. This poem emerged nearly ten years before the birth of Phyllis Wheatley.

Lucy’s poem was not “published” in print until after her death, but it was kept alive through oral tradition. She was such a creative and forceful voice and personality that she was remembered over time as a “Singer of History”—a story teller and singer, as well as an orator.

I agree entirely with Rev. Smith-Penniman: “But of greater significance than who might have been first is the deep sorrow that the words of many geniuses are lost forever…” There were doubtlessly many other “bards of darker hue.”

Here’s hoping they are rediscovered so we may hear and celebrate them.

Tim Neumann

Executive Director, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association



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