Lucy Terry Prince

Lucy Terry Prince’s only surviving poem, “Bars Fight” (based on a skirmish that took place between European settlers and Native Americans in western Massachusetts on August 28, 1746), is the first extant poetical work known to have been composed by an African-American woman.

Terry, who was probably enslaved in Africa as a very young child, was baptized in Rhode Island on June 15, 1775. When she was five years old, she was brought to Deerfield, Massachusetts by Ebenezer Wells. On May 17, 1756, Lucy Terry married Abijah Prince (born c. 1706), who may have been a free man with the right to own land. The couple had six children. Terry defended her husband’s property rights in court against several lawsuits, and when her son was declined admission to Williams College because of his race, she appealed to the trustees in an eloquent and convincing but ultimately unsuccessful speech. After her husband’s death in 1794, Terry undertook an eighteen-mile pilgrimage to visit his grave each year until she passed away in 1821.

“Bars Fight” remained a part of oral tradition in western Massachusetts until it was recorded for posterity in 1855, over one hundred years after its original composition.

from first version of Bars Fight


'Twas nigh unto Sam Dickinson's mill,
The Indians there five men did kill.

from second version of Bars Fight


August 'twas the twenty-fifth
Seventeen hundred forty-six
The Indians did in ambush lay
Some very valient men to slay
The names of whom I'll not leave out
Samuel Allen like a hero fout
And though he was so brave and bold
His face no more we shall 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 and pain
Simeon Amsden they found dead
Not many rods off from his head.
Adonijah Gillet, we do hear
Did lose his life which was so dear
John Saddler fled across the water
And so 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
And 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.

Sources

Sheldon, George. "Negro Slavery in Old Deerfield." The New England Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly. Vol. 8 (March-August 1893) 49-60.