Written by T.Cole -
Lucy Terry (c. 1730–1821), orator/ poet.
Lucy Terry was the creator of the earliest known work of literature by an African American. Her poem, “Bar’s Fight,” created when the poet was sixteen years old, records an Indian ambush of two white families on 25 August 1746 in a section of Deerfield, Massachusetts, known as “the Bars,” a colonial word for meadows. Composed in rhymed tetrameter couplets and probably designed to be sung, Terry’s ballad was preserved in the memories of local singers until it was published in Josiah Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts in 1855. Although Terry had grown up a slave in Deerfield, “Bar’s Fight” conveys genuine sympathy for the white men and women who died in the skirmish.
Lucy Terry was born in Africa, kidnapped as an infant, and sold into slavery in Rhode Island. In 1735, when she was about five years old, she became the property of Ensign Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Massachusetts. After converting to Christianity she became a member of her master’s church in 1744. She remained a slave until Obijah Prince, a wealthy free black, bought her freedom and married her in 1756. In 1760, the Princes moved to Guilford, Vermont, where Lucy’s reputation as a storyteller and a strong defender of African American civil rights grew. Committed to an education for her six children, Lucy Terry Prince encouraged her oldest son to apply for admission to Williams College. When he was refused, she traveled to Williamstown, Massachusetts, and delivered a three-hour argument to the college’s trustees against Williams’s policy of racial discrimination. Though unsuccessful, this effort augmented Lucy Terry Prince’s regional reputation as a skilled orator. After her husband’s death in 1794, she moved to Sunderland, Ver mont, where she died in 1821. “Bar’s Fight,” though of slight significance from a purely literary point of view, testifies to African American participation, from early colonial times, in the inscription of the cultural memory of the United States.