Lucy Terry

A Life of Radical Resistance
  • Sharon M. Harris


Lucy Terry (c. 1724–1821) is the first recorded African American poet in the United States. While her ballad “Bars Fight” was created to commemorate a battle in Deerfield, Massachusetts, during King George’s War of 1744 to 1746, it should be read within multiple cultural contexts, including its place within African and American cultural traditions, its relation to Terry’s longstanding engagement with colonial legal systems, and the popularity of political satire. By satirizing one of Euro-America’s most popular genres—the Indian captivity narra five—Terry’s poem stands at the forefront of a significant tradition in African American literary history, and it reveals one of the many ways in which enslaved peoples used coded language to challenge the system that enslaved them. To comprehend the complexities of “Bars Fight” in this context, we must examine the life that gave rise to the power to be one who critiques—to be one who, through bicultural play, turns the observers’ gaze back on themselves—to be, perhaps, the subaltern who speaks.1 As bell hooks has observed, the prevailing image of early African American female bodies is one of bondage and a lack of agency: “Rarely do we articulate a vision of resistance, of decolonizing that provides strategies for the construction of a liberatory black female body politics … Who among us when remembering 18th and 19th century representations of African American females can call to mind any visual representation of the body of a free black woman.”2 While Lucy Terry’s physical likeness per se is unknown to us, her lifelong resistance to oppression may be a significant step toward reconfiguring our vision of black women’s resistance.


Black Woman Dominant Culture Radical Resistance Williams College African American Culture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Lovalerie King and Richard Schur 2009

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  • Sharon M. Harris

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