George W. Williams.

History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens online

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traitors to his Majesty's Crown and Government, and thereby
become liable to the penalty the law inflicts upon such
offences, - such as forfeiture of life, confiscation of
lands, &c., &c. And I do hereby further declare all indented
servants, negroes, or others (appertaining to Rebels,) 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 sense of their duty to his
Majesty's crown and dignity. I do further order and require
all his Majesty's liege subjects to retain their quit-rents,
or any other taxes due, or that may become due, in their own
custody, till such time as peace may be again restored to
this at present most unhappy country, or demanded of them,
for their former salutary purposes, by officers properly
authorized to receive the same.

"Given under my hand, on board the Ship _William_, off
_Norfolk_, the seventh day of November, in the sixteenth
year of his Majesty's reign.


"_God save the King!_"[533]

On account of this, on the 31st of December, Gen. Washington wrote the
President of Congress as follows: -

"It has been represented to me, that the free negroes, who
have served in this army, are very much dissatisfied at
being discarded. As it is to be apprehended, that they may
seek employ in the ministerial army, I have presumed to
depart from the resolution respecting them, and have given
license for their being enlisted. If this is disapproved of
by Congress, I will put a stop to it."[534]

This letter was referred to a committee consisting of Messrs. Wythe,
Adams, and Wilson. On the 16th of January, 1776, they made the
following report: -

"That the free negroes who have served faithfully in the
army at Cambridge may be re-enlist - therein, but no

This action on the part of Congress had reference to the army around
Boston, but it called forth loud and bitter criticism from the
officers of the army at the South. In a letter to John Adams, dated
Oct. 24, 1775, Gen. Thomas indicated that there was some feeling even
before the action of Congress was secured. He says, -

"I am sorry to hear that any prejudices should take place in
any Southern colony, with respect to the troops raised in
this. I am certain the insinuations you mention are
injurious, if we consider with what precipitation we were
obliged to collect an army. In the regiments at Roxbury, the
privates are equal to any that I served with in the last
war; very few old men, and in the ranks very few boys. Our
fifers are many of them boys. We have some negroes; but I
look on them, in general, equally serviceable with other men
for fatigue; and, in action, many of them have proved
themselves brave.

"I would avoid all reflection, or any thing that may tend to
give umbrage; but there is in this army from the southward a
number called riflemen, who are as indifferent men as I
ever served with. These privates are mutinous, and often
deserting to the enemy; unwilling for duty of any kind;
exceedingly vicious; and, I think, the army here would be as
well without as with them. But to do justice to their
officers, they are, some of them, likely men."

The Dunmore proclamation was working great mischief in the Southern
colonies. The Southern colonists were largely engaged in planting,
and, as they were Tories, did not rush to arms with the celerity that
characterized the Northern colonists. At an early moment in the
struggle, the famous Rev. Dr. Hopkins of Rhode Island wrote the
following pertinent extract: -

"God is so ordering it in his providence, that it seems
absolutely necessary something should speedily be done with
respect to the slaves among us, in order to our safety, and
to prevent their turning against us in out present struggle,
in order to get their liberty. Our oppressors have planned
to gain the blacks, and induce them to take up arms against
us, by promising them liberty on this condition; and this
plan they are prosecuting to the utmost of their power, by
which means they have persuaded numbers to join them. And
should we attempt to restrain them by force and severity,
keeping a strict guard over them, and punishing them
severely who shall be detected in attempting to join our
opposers, this will only be making bad worse, and serve to
render our inconsistence, oppression, and cruelty more
criminal, perspicuous, and shocking, and bring down the
righteous vengeance of Heaven on our heads. The only way
pointed out to prevent this threatening evil is to set the
blacks at liberty ourselves by some public acts and laws,
and then give them proper encouragement to labor, or take
arms in the defence of the American cause, as they shall
choose. This would at once be doing them some degree of
justice, and defeating our enemies in the scheme that they
are prosecuting."[536]

On Sunday, the 24th of September, 1775, John Adams recorded the
following conversation, that goes to show that Lord Dunmore's policy
was well matured: -

"In the evening, Mr. Bullock and Mr. Houston, two gentlemen
from Georgia, came into our room, and smoked and chatted the
whole evening. Houston and Adams disputed the whole time in
good humor. They are both dabs at disputation, I think.
Houston, a lawyer by trade, is one of course, and Adams is
not a whit less addicted to it than the lawyers. The
question was, whether all America was not in a state of war,
and whether we ought to confine ourselves to act upon the
defensive only? He was for acting offensively, next spring
or this fall, if the petition was rejected or neglected. If
it was not answered, and favorably answered, he would be for
acting against Britain and Britons, as, in open war, against
French and Frenchmen; fit privateers, and take their ships
anywhere. These gentlemen give a melancholy account of the
State of Georgia and South Carolina. They say that if one
thousand regular troops should land in Georgia, and their
commander be provided with arms and clothes enough, and
proclaim freedom to all the negroes who would join his camp,
twenty thousand negroes would join it from the two Provinces
in a fortnight. The negroes have a wonderful art of
communicating intelligence among themselves; it will run
several hundreds of miles in a week or fortnight. They say,
their only security is this; that all the king's friends,
and tools of government, have large plantations, and
property in negroes; so that the slaves of the Tories would
be lost, as well as those of the Whigs."[537]

The Negroes in Virginia sought the standards of the ministerial army,
and the greatest consternation prevailed among the planters. On the
27th of November, 1775, Edmund Pendleton wrote to Richard Lee that the
slaves were daily flocking to the British army.

"The Governour, hearing of this, marched out with three
hundred and fifty soldiers, Tories and slaves, to Kemp's
Landing, and after setting up his standard, and issuing his
proclamation, declaring all persons Rebels who took up arms
for the country, and inviting all slaves, servants, and
apprentices to come to him and receive arms, he proceeded to
intercept Hutchings and his party, upon whom he came by
surprise, but received, it seems, so warm a fire, that the
ragamuffins gave way. They were, however, rallied on
discovering that two companies of our militia gave way; and
left Hutchings and Dr. Reid with a volunteer company, who
maintained their ground bravely till they were overcome by
numbers, and took shelter in a swamp. The slaves were sent
in pursuit of them; and one of Col. Hutchings's own, with
another, found him. On their approach, he discharged his
pistol at his slave, but missed him; and was taken by them,
after receiving a wound in his face with a sword. The number
taken or killed, on either side, is not ascertained. It is
said the Governour went to Dr. Reid's shop, and, after
taking the medicines and dressings necessary for his wounded
men, broke all the others to pieces. Letters mention that
slaves flock to him in abundance; but I hope it is

But the dark stream of Negroes that had set in toward the English
troops, where they were promised the privilege of bearing arms and
their freedom, could not easily be stayed. The proclamation of Dunmore
received the criticism of the press, and the Negroes were appealed to
and urged to stand by their "true friends." A Williamsburg paper,
printed on the 23d of November, 1775, contained the following
well-written plea: -


"The second class of people for whose sake a few remarks
upon this proclamation seem necessary is the Negroes. They
have been flattered with their freedom, if they be able to
bear arms, and will speedily join Lord Dunmore's troops. To
none, then, is freedom promised, but to such as are able to
do Lord Dunmore service. The aged, the infirm, the women and
children, are still to remain the property of their
masters, - of masters who will be provoked to severity,
should part of their slaves desert them. Lord Dunmore's
declaration, therefore, is a cruel declaration to the
Negroes. He does not pretend to make it out of any
tenderness to them, but solely upon his own account; and,
should it meet with success, it leaves by far the greater
number at the mercy of an enraged and injured people. But
should there be any amongst the Negroes weak enough to
believe that Lord Dunmore intends to do them a kindness, and
wicked enough to provoke the fury of the Americans against
their defenceless fathers and mothers, their wives, their
women and children, let them only consider the difficulty of
effecting their escape, and what they must expect to suffer
if they fall into the hands of the Americans. Let them
further consider what must be their fate should the English
prove conquerors. If we can judge of the future from the
past, it will not be much mended. Long have the Americans,
moved by compassion and actuated by sound policy, endeavored
to stop the progress of slavery. Our Assemblies have
repeatedly passed acts, laying heavy duties upon imported
Negroes; by which they meant altogether to prevent the
horrid traffick. But their humane intentions have been as
often frustrated by the cruelty and covetousness of a set of
English merchants, who prevailed upon the King to repeal our
kind and merciful acts, little, indeed, to the credit of his
humanity. Can it, then, be supposed that the Negroes will be
better used by the English, who have always encouraged and
upheld this slavery, than by their present masters, who pity
their condition; who wish, in general, to make it as easy
and comfortable as possible; _and who would, were it in
their power, or were they permitted, not only prevent any
more Negroes from losing their freedom, but restore it to
such as have already unhappily lost it?_ No: the ends of
Lord Dunmore and his party being answered, they will either
give up the offending Negroes to the rigor of the laws they
have broken, or sell them in the West Indies, where every
year they sell many thousands of their miserable brethren,
to perish either by the inclemency of weather or the cruelty
of barbarous masters. Be not then, ye Negroes, tempted by
this proclamation to ruin yourselves. I have given you a
faithful view of what you are to expect; and declare before
God, in doing it, I have considered your welfare, as well as
that of the country. Whether you will profit by my advice, I
cannot tell; but this I know, that, whether we suffer or
not, if _you_ desert us, _you_ most certainly will."[539]

But the Negroes had been demoralized, and it required an extraordinary
effort to quiet them. On the 13th of December, the Virginia Convention
put forth an answer to the proclamation of Lord Dunmore. On the 14th
of December a proclamation was issued "offering pardon to such slaves
as shall return to their duty within ten days after the publication
thereof." The following; was their declaration: -

"_By the Representatives of the People of the Colony and
Dominion of Virginia, assembled in General Convention_,


"Whereas Lord Dunmore, by his Proclamation dated on board
the ship 'William,' off Norfolk, the seventh day of
November, 1775, hath offered freedom to such able-bodied
slaves as are willing to join him, and take up arms against
the good people of this Colony, giving thereby encouragement
to a general insurrection, which may induce a necessity of
inflicting the severest punishments upon those unhappy
people, already deluded by his base and insidious arts, and
whereas, by an act of the General Assembly now in force in
this Colony, it is enacted, that all negro or other slaves,
conspiring to rebel or make insurrection, shall suffer
death, and be excluded all benefit of clergy; - we think it
proper to declare, that all slaves who have been or shall be
seduced, by his Lordship's Proclamation, or other arts, to
desert their masters' service, and take up arms against the
inhabitants of this Colony, shall be liable to such
punishment as shall hereafter be directed by the General
Convention. And to the end that all such who have taken this
unlawful and wicked step may return in safety to their duty,
and escape the punishment due to their crimes, we hereby
promise pardon to them, they surrendering themselves to
Colonel William Woodford or any other commander of our
troops, and not appearing in arms after the publication
hereof. And we do further earnestly recommend it to all
humane and benevolent persons in this Colony to explain and
make known this our offer of mercy to those unfortunate

Gen. Washington was not long in observing the effects of the Dunmore
proclamation. He began to fully realize the condition of affairs at
the South, and on Dec. 15 wrote Joseph Reed as follows: -

"If the Virginians are wise, that arch-traitor to the rights
of humanity, Lord Dunmore, should be instantly crushed, if
it takes the force of the whole army to do it; otherwise,
like a snow-ball in rolling, his army will get size, some
through fear, some through promises, and some through
inclination, joining his standard but that which renders the
measure indispensably necessary is the negroes; for, if he
gets formidable, numbers of them will be tempted to join who
will be afraid to do it without."[541]

The slaves themselves were not incapable of perceiving the cunning of
Lord Dunmore. England had forced slavery upon the colonists against
their protest, had given instructions to the royal governors
concerning the increase of the traffic, and therefore could not be
more their friends than the colonists. The number that went over to
the enemy grew smaller all the while, and finally the British were
totally discouraged in this regard. Lord Dunmore was unwilling to
acknowledge the real cause of his failure to secure black recruits,
and so he charged it to the fever.


30th March, 1776

* * * * *

"Your Lordship will observe by my letter, No. 34, that I
have been endeavouring to raise two regiments here - one of
white people, the other of black. The former goes on very
slowly, but the latter very well, and would have been in
great forwardness, had not a fever crept in amongst them,
which earned off a great many very fine fellows."

VIRGINIA, June 26, 1776.

"I am extremely sorry to inform your Lordship, that that
fever, of which I informed you in my letter No. 1, has
proved a very malignant one, and has carried off an
incredible number of our people, especially the blacks. Had
it not been for this horrid disorder, I am satisfied I
should have had two thousand blacks, with whom I should have
had no doubt of penetrating into the heart of this

While the colonists felt, as Dr. Hopkins had written, that something
ought to be done toward securing the services of the Negroes, yet
their representatives were not disposed to legislate the Negro into
the army. He was there, and still a conservative policy was pursued
respecting him. Some bold officers took it upon themselves to receive
Negroes as soldiers. Gen. Greene, in a letter to Gen. Washington,
called attention to the raising of a Negro regiment on Staten Island.

July 21, 1776, two o'clock.

"SIR; Colonel Hand reports seven large ships are coming up
from the Hook to the Narrows.

"A negro belonging to one Strickler, at Gravesend was taken
prisoner (as he says) last Sunday at Coney Island.
Yesterday he made his escape, and was taken prisoner by the
rifle-guard. He reports eight hundred negroes collected on
Staten Island, this day to be formed into a regiment.

"I am your Excellency's most obedient, humble servant,


"_To his Excellency_ GEN. WASHINGTON, _Headquarters, New

To the evidence already produced as to the indiscriminate employment
of Negroes as soldiers in the American army, the observations of a
foreign officer are added. Under date of the 23d of October, 1777, a
Hessian officer wrote:[544] -

"From here to Springfield, there are few habitations which
have not a negro family dwelling in a small house near by.
The negroes are here as fruitful as other cattle. The young
ones are well foddered, especially while they are still
calves. Slavery is, moreover, very gainful. The negro is to
be considered just as the bond-servant of a peasant. The
negress does all the coarse work of the house, and the
little black young ones wait on the little white young ones.
_The negro can take the field, instead of his master; and
therefore no regiment is to be seen in which there are not
negroes in abundance: and among them there, are able-bodied,
strong, and brave fellows_. Here, too, there are many
families of free negroes, who live in good houses, have
property, and live just like the rest of the

In the month of May, 1777, the Legislature of Connecticut sought to
secure some action on the subject of the employment of Negroes as

"In May, 1777, the General Assembly of Connecticut appointed
a Committee 'to take into consideration the state and
condition of the negro and mulatto slaves in this State, and
what may be done for their emancipation.' This Committee, in
a report presented at the same session (signed by the
chairman, the Hon. Matthew Griswold of Lyme), recommended -

"'That the effective negro and mulatto slaves be allowed to
enlist with the Continental battalions now raising in this
State, under the following regulations and restrictions;
viz., that all such negro and mulatto slaves as can procure,
either by bounty, hire, or in any other way, such a sum to
be paid to their masters as such negro or mulatto shall be
judged to be reasonably worth by the selectmen of the town
where such negro or mulatto belongs, shall be allowed to
enlist into either of said battalions, and shall thereupon
be, de facto, _free and emancipated_; and that the master of
such negro or mulutto shall be exempted from the support and
maintenance of such negro or mulatto, in case such negro or
mulatto shall hereafter become unable to support and
maintain himself.

"'And that, in case any such negro or mulatto slave shall be
disposed to enlist into either of said battalions during the
[war], he shall be allowed so to do: and such negro or
mulatto shall be appraised by the selectmen of the town to
which he belongs, and his master shall be allowed to receive
the bounty to which such slave may be entitled and also
one-half of the annual wages of such slave during the time
he shall continue in said service; provided, however, that
said master shall not be allowed to receive such part of
said wages after he shall have received so much as amounts,
together with the bounty, to the sum at which he was

In the lower house the report was put over to the next session, but
when it reached the upper house it was rejected.

"You will see by the Report of Committee, May, 1777, that
General Varnum's plan for the enlistment of slaves had been
anticipated in Connecticut; with this difference, that Rhode
Island _adopted_ it, while Connecticut did _not._

"The two States reached nearly the same _results_ by
different methods. The unanimous declaration of the officers
at Cambridge, in the winter of 1775, _against_ the
enlistment of slaves, - confirmed by the Committee of
Congress, - had some weight, I think, with the Connecticut
Assembly, so far as the formal enactment of a law
_authorized_ such enlistments was in question. At the same
time, Washington's license to _continue_ the enlistment of
negroes was regarded as a rule of action both by the
selectmen in making up, and by the State Government in
accepting, the quota of the towns. The process of
draughting, in Connecticut, was briefly this: The
able-bodied men, in each town, were divided into 'classes:'
and each class was required to furnish one or more men, as
the town's quota required, to answer a draught. Now, the
Assembly, at the same session at which the proposition for
enlisting slaves was rejected (May, 1777), passed an act
providing that any _two_ men belonging to this State, 'who
should procure an able-bodied soldier or recruit to enlist
into either of the Continental battalions to be raised from
this State,' should themselves be exempted from draught
during the continuance of such enlistment. Of recruits or
draughted men thus furnished, neither the selectmen nor
commanding officers questioned the _color_ or the civil
_status_: white and black, bond and free, if 'able-bodied,'
went on the roll together, accepted as the representatives
of their 'class,' or as substitutes for their employers. At
the next session (October, 1777), an act was passed which
gave more direct encouragement to the enlistment of slaves.
By this existing law, the master who emancipated a slave was
not released from the liability to provide for his support.
This law was now so amended, as to authorize the selectmen
of any town, on the application of the master, - after
'inquiry into the age, abilities, circumstances, and
character' of the servant or slave, and being satisfied
'that it was likely to be consistent with his real
advantage, and that it was probable that he would be able to
support himself,' - to grant liberty for his emancipation,
and to discharge the master 'from any charge or cost which
may be occasioned by maintaining or supporting the servant
or slave made free as aforesaid.' This enactment enabled the
selectmen to offer an additional inducement to enlistment
for making up the quota of the town. The slave (or servant