Lucy Terry (1730?-1821) is the author of the oldest known work of literature by an African American.
Lucy Terry was born in Africa, and taken when she was only an infant to become a slave. She had been purchased by Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, MA. By approval of her owner, Lucy was allowed to become a full member of the church sometime around 1744 when she was around the age of 19 or 20.
Lucy Terry, well known for her speaking ability, had used her skills a number of times in defense of her family's rights and property. However Lucy became most famous for her poem The Bars Fight, recounted dramatic events surrounding the last Indian raid which took place on August 25, 1746, at Deerfield, Massachusetts, where she was a household slave. The Bars, was a common field where a fence crossed the road to Hatfield; in this fence was a set of slip-bars, for travelers. Some historians would also say this place was a meadow. Nevertheless, two neighboring families who were out working in the field had been killed.
It is unclear as to whether Lucy Terry actually wrote the poem down in fact or used the African tradition of oral narrative. It may have been that Lucy only told and retold this riveting tail and others repeated it. The first known printed version of this poem came out in a lecture given in 1819 and then published in a book of western Massachusetts history in 1855.
Historians do believe that Lucy Terry was literate considering her legal battles in her later years after her marriage to Abijah Prince in 1756. Abijah Prince was a prosperous free black man who supposedly purchased her freedom.
Lucy Terry hence became Lucy Terry Prince. Though she was not a lawyer, she argued a case in court when Colonel Eli Bronson tried to steal land owned by the Princes. The case made its way to the Supreme Court where Lucy argued her case before the Supreme Court herself, and won. Lucy Prince Terry died in 1821, at the age of 97.
The ballad Bars Fight, by Lucy Terry Prince has made this African-American author known as the author of the first poem composed by an African-American woman.