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Student Question: War of Independence

David Richardson

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This is not an area that I have any great knowledge of however I was able to find this information from the http://www.studyworld.com/1775.htm website. However it does give information about the opposite of what you were asking!

Throughout American history, Afro-Americans have had to decide whether they belonged in the United States or if they should go elsewhere. Slavery no doubtfully had a great impact upon their decisions. However, despite their troubles African Americans have made a grand contribution and a great impact on our armed forces since the Revolutionary War. The Afro-American has fought against its country's wars, and they have also fought the war within their country to gain the right to fight and freedom.

America's first war, its war for independence from Great Britain was a great accomplishment. This achievement could not have been performed if not for the black soldiers in the armies. "The first American to shed blood in the revolution that freed America from British rule was Crispus Attucks, a Black seaman." (Mullen 9) Attucks along with four white men were killed in the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770. Even though Attucks was a fugitive slave running from his master, he was still willing to fight against England along with other whites and give the ultimate sacrifice, his life, for freedom. This wasn't the only incident of Blacks giving it all during the War for Independence.

From the first battles of Concord and Lexington in 1775, Black soldiers "took up arms against the mother country." (Mullen 11) Of the many Black men who fought in those battles, the most famous are Peter Salem, Cato Stedman, Cuff Whittemore, Cato Wood, Prince Estabrook, Caesar Ferritt, Samuel Craft, Lemuel Haynes, and Pomp Blackman. One of the most distinguished heroes o the Battle of Bunker Hill was Peter Salem who, according to some sources, fired the shot that killed Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines. But Peter Salem wasn't the only Black hero during the Revolutionary War.

Another Black man, Salem Poor, also made a hero of himself at Bunker Hill. Because of his bravery at the battle, he was commended by several officers to the Continental Congress. "Equally gallant at Bunker Hill were Pomp Fisk, Grant Coope, Charleston Eads, Seymour Burr, Titus Coburn, Cuff Hayes, and Caesar Dickenson." (Wilson 32) Of these men, Caesar Brown and Cuff Hayes were killed during the battle. Even though the Afro-American soldiers clearly distinguished themselves as soldiers, they were by no means wanted in the army. "Shortly after General Washington took command of the Army, the white colonists decided that not only should no Black slaves or freemen be enlisted, but that those already serving in the Army should be dismissed." (Mullen 12)

The colonists would probably have kept Blacks out of the military during the war if not for the proclamation by the Lord of Dunmore. He stated "I do hereby... declare all... Negroes... free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining his Majesty's troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this colony to a proper dignity." This meant that any black soldiers willing to fight for the British would be declared legally free. Therefore, the Americans couldn't afford to deny Black Americans, free or not, from joining the army. Less than a month following Lord Dunmore's proclamation, General George Washington officially reversed his policy about letting "free Negroes to enlist." (Fowler 21)

"Of the 300,000 soldiers who served in the Continental Army during the War of Independence, approximately five thousand were Black. Some volunteered. Others were drafted. In addition to several all-Black companies, an all-Black regiment was recruited from Rhode Island. This regiment distinguished itself in the Battle of Rhode Island on August 29, 1778." (Wilson 22)

Between 1775 to 1781 there weren't any battles without Black participants. Black soldiers fought for the colonies at Lexington, Concord, Ticonderoga, White Plains, Benington, Brandywine, Saratoga, Savannah, and Yorktown. There were two Blacks, Prince Whipple and Oliver Cromwell, with Washington when he crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day in 1776. "Some won recognition and a place in the history of the War of Independence by their outstanding service, although most have remained anonymous." (Craine 43) Unfortunately despite Afro-Americans' contributions to the war effort and the large amount of dead Blacks, few had gained their freedom. The War for Independence was just the first of a list of wars Afro-Americans would have a chance to participate in.

Edited by Dan Lyndon
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A bit more research from http://www.africawithin.com/jeffries/aapart22.htm has unearthed this which begins to answer your question:

The British decided to utilize Blacks if only to deprive the Americans of an essential labor source. Lord Dunmore had grand ideas of ex-slaves in an army that would cause chaos in the American ranks. Dunmore proclaimed that "All indentured servants, Negroes or others, free that are able and willing to bear arms in the King's cause." His famous proclamation was issued on November 7, 1775 at Kemp's Landing, Virginia—the scene of an earlier victory by a detachment of British troops that included Black fighting men. Before the week was over, hundreds of African Americans flocked to the British lines, and Lord Dunmore was able to organize the Ethiopian regiment, made up of Freed Slaves.These Blacks had no particular love for the British. Their burning desire was to obtain freedom. In fact, they left no doubt about their sentiments because they fought with the words, "Liberty to Slaves," inscribed across their chests. This was the type of spirit that motivated thousands of African Americans who fought for freedom in the American Revolution.

Companies of Black Pioneers were organized during the war wherever the British had a foothold, particularly in the cities they occupied. Black companies were set up in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Savanna and Charleston, providing much needed labor and support for the war effort. Most of these men and women had fled their plantations. Run-a-ways had always been a problem in slave society, and during the war it became a major crisis.

As the war progressed, other proclamations were made by the British to solicit the support of the slave population. Commander General Clinton, for example, in Phillipsburg on June 30, 1779, promised freedom to slaves fleeing to the British.

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