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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Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 42 of 57)
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Isaac Higgins, Heman Rogers, Sharp Camp,
Lewis Martin, Job Cæsar, Jo Otis.
Cæsar Chapman, John Rogers, James Dinah,
Peter Mix, Ned Freedom, Solomon Sowtice,
Philo Freeman, Ezekiel Tupham, Peter Freeman,
Hector Williams, Tom Freeman, Cato Wilbrow,
Juba Freeman, Congo Zado, Cuff Freeman,
Cato Robinson, Peter Gibbs, Juba Dyer,
Prince George, Prince Johnson, Andrew Jack,
Prince Crosbee, Alex. Judd, Peter Morando,
Shubael Johnson, Pomp Liberty, Peter Lion,
Tim Cæsar, Cuff Liberty, Sampson Cuff,
Jack Little, Pomp Cyrus, Dick Freedom,
Bill Sowers, Harry Williams, Pomp McCuff."[576]
Dick Violet, Sharp Rogers,

But notwithstanding the persistent and bitter opposition to the
employment of slaves, from the earliest hours of the Revolutionary War
till its close, Negroes, bond and free, were in all branches of the
service. It is to be regretted that the exact number cannot be known.
Adjutant-Gen. Scammell made the following official return of Negro
soldiers in the main army, under Washington's immediate command, two
months after the battle of Monmouth; but the Rhode-Island regiment,
the Connecticut, New York, and New-Hampshire troops are not mentioned.
Incomplete as it is, it is nevertheless official, and therefore
correct as far as it goes.


+ - - - - - - - - - - + - - - - - + - - - - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - - +
+ - - - - - - - - - - + - - - - - + - - - - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - - +
| North Carolina . | 42 | 10 | 6 | 58 |
| Woodford . . | 36 | 3 | 1 | 40 |
| Muhlenburg . . | 64 | 26 | 8 | 98 |
| Smallwood . . | 20 | 3 | 1 | 24 |
| 2d Maryland . . | 43 | 15 | 2 | 60 |
| Wayne . . . | 2 | - | - | 2 |
| 2d Pennsylvania . | [33] | [1] | [1] | [35] |
| Clinton . . . | 33 | 2 | 4 | 39 |
| Parsons . . . | 117 | 12 | 19 | 148 |
| Huntington . . | 56 | 2 | 4 | 62 |
| Nixon . . . | 26 | - | 1 | 27 |
| Patterson . . | 64 | 13 | 12 | 89 |
| Late Learned . | 34 | 4 | 8 | 46 |
| Poor. . . . | 16 | 7 | 4 | 27 |
+ - - - - - - - - - - + - - - - - + - - - - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - - +
| Total . . | 586 | 98 | 71 | 755 |
+ - - - - - - - - - - + - - - - - + - - - - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - - +
ALEX. SCAMMELL, _Adj.-Gen._[577]

It is gratifying to record the fact, that the Negro was enrolled as a
soldier in the war of the American Revolution. What he did will be
recorded in the following chapter.


[520] Journal of the Continental Congress.

[521] The Hon. Peter Force, in an article to The National
Intelligencer, Jan. 16 and 18, 1855, says: "Southern colonies, jointly
with all the others, and separately each for itself, did agree to
prohibit the importation of slaves, voluntarily and in good faith."
Georgia was not represented in this Congress, and, therefore, could
not sign.

[522] Sparks's Washington, vol. ii. pp. 488-495.

[523] Sparks's Franklin, vol. viii, p. 42.

[524] Jefferson's Works, vol. i. p. 135.

[525] Ibid., pp. 23,24.

[526] Journals of the Provincial Congress of Mass., p. 29.

[527] Adams's Works, vol. ii. p. 322.

[528] Journals of the Provincial Congress of Mass., p. 553.

[529] Ibid., p. 302.

[530] The following is a copy of Gen. Gates's order to
recruiting-officers: -

"You are not to enlist any deserter from the Ministerial
Army, or any stroller, negro, or vagabond, or person
suspected of being an enemy to the liberty of America, nor
any under eighteen years of age.

"As the cause is the best that can engage men of courage and
principle to take up arms, so it is expected that none but
such will be accepted by the recruiting officer. The pay,
provision, &c., being so ample, it is not doubted but that
the officers sent upon this service will, without delay,
complete their respective corps, and march the men forthwith
to camp.

"You are not to enlist any person who is not an American
born, unless such person has a wife and family, and is a
settled resident in this country. The persons you enlist
must be provided with good and complete arms."

- MOORE'S _Diary of the American Revolution_, vol. i. p.

[531] The Provincial Congress of South Carolina, Nov 20, 1775, passed
the following resolve: - "On motion,_Resolved_, That the colonels of
the several regiments of militia throughout the Colony have leave to
enroll such a number of able male slaves, to be employed as pioneers
and laborers, as public exigencies may require; and that a daily pay
of seven shillings and sixpence be allowed for the service of each
such slave while actually employed."

- _American Archives_, 4th Series, vol. iv p. 6.

[532] Sparks's Washington, vol. iii. p. 155, note.

[533] Force's American Archives, 4th Series, vol. iii. p. 1,385.

[534] Spark's Washington, vol. iii. p. 218.

[535] Journals of Congress, vol ii. p. 26.

[536] Hopkins's Works, vol. ii. p. 584.

[537] Works of John Adams, vol. ii p. 428.

[538] Force's American Archives, 4th Series, vol. iv. p. 202.

[539] Force's American Archives, 4th Series, vol. iii. p. 1,387.

[540] Force's American Archives, 4th Series, vol. iv. pp. 84, 85.

[541] Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, vol. i. p. 135.

[542] Force's American Archives, 5th Series, vol. ii. pp 160, 162.

[543] Force's American Archives, 5th Series, vol. i p. 486.

[544] During a few months of study in New-York City, I came across the
above in the library of the N.Y. Hist. Soc.

[545] Schloezer's Briefwechsel, vol. iv. p. 365.

[546] An Historical Research (Livermore), pp. 114-116.

[547] R.I. Col. Recs., vol. viii. p. 640.

[548] R.I. Col. Recs., vol. viii. p. 641.

[549] Ibid., vol. viii. p. 524.

[550] R.I. Col. Recs., vol viii. pp. 358-360.

[551] R.I. Col. Recs., vol. viii. p. 361.

[552] This is evidently a mistake, as Washington's letter was dated
Jan. 2, as the reader will see.

[553] R.I. Col. Recs., vol. viii. p. 526.

[554] Ibid., p. 376.

[555] Ibid., p. 465.

[556] MSS. Archives of Mass., vol. cxcix. pp. 80, 84.

[557] Hening, vol. ix. 280.

[558] Sparks's Correspondence of the American Revolution, vol. iii. p.

[559] Laws of the State of New York, chap. xxxiii. (March 20, 1781,
4th Session).

[560] The American Loyalist, p. 30, second edition.

[561] Sparks's Washington, vol. vi p. 204, note.

[562] Ibid., vol. vi. p. 204.

[563] Life of John Jay, by William Jay, vol. II. pp. 31, 32.

[564] Ramsay, the historian of South Carolina says, "It has been
computed by good judges, that, between 1775 and 1783, the State of
South Carolina lost twenty-five thousand negroes."

[565] Secret Journals of Congress, vol. i. pp. 107-110.

[566] Journals of Congress, vol. v. p. 123.

[567] Works of Hamilton, vol. i. pp. 114, 115.

[568] Sparks's Correspondence of the American Revolution, vol. ii. p.

[569] Jefferson's Works, vol ii. p. 426.

[570] Madison Papers, p. 68.

[571] Sparks's Correspondence of the American Revolution, vol. iii. p.

[572] Sparks's Correspondence of the American Revolution, vol. iii. p.

[573] Ibid., p. 515.

[574] Sparks's Washington, vol. viii. pp. 322, 323.

[575] Biographical Sketch in "The National Portrait Gallery of
Distinguished Americans."

[576] Colored Patriots of the Revolution, p. 134.

[577] This return was discovered by the indefatigable Dr. George H.
Moore. It is the only document of the kind in existence.





As soldiers the Negroes went far beyond the most liberal expectations
of their stanchest friends. Associated with white men, many of whom
were superior gentlemen, and nearly all of whom were brave and
enthusiastic, the Negro soldiers of the American army became worthy of
the cause they fought to sustain. Col. Alexander Hamilton had said,
"_their natural faculties are as good as ours_;" and the assertion was
supported by their splendid behavior on all the battle-fields of the
Revolution. Endowed by nature with a poetic element, faithful to
trusts, abiding in friendships, bound by the golden threads of
attachment to places and persons, enthusiastic in personal endeavor,
sentimental and chivalric, they made hardy and intrepid soldiers. The
daring, boisterous enthusiasm with which they sprang to arms disarmed
racial prejudice of its sting, and made friends of foes.

Their cheerfulness in camp, their celerity in the performance of
fatigue-duty, their patient endurance of heat and cold, hunger and
thirst, and their bold efficiency in battle, made them welcome
companions everywhere they went. The officers who frowned at their
presence in the army at first, early learned, from experience, that
they were the equals of any troops in the army for severe service in
camp, and excellent fighting in the field.

The battle of Bunker Hill was one of the earliest and most important
of the Revolution. Negro soldiers were in the action of the 17th of
June, 1775, and nobly did their duty. Speaking of this engagement,
Bancroft says, -

"Nor should history forget to record that, as in the army at
Cambridge, so also in this gallant band, the free negroes of
the colony had their representatives."[578]

Two Negro soldiers especially distinguished themselves, and rendered
the cause of the colonists great service. Major Pitcairn was a gallant
officer of the British marines. He led the charge against the redoubt,
crying exultingly, "The day is ours!" His sudden appearance and his
commanding air at first startled the men immediately before him. They
neither answered nor fired, probably not being exactly certain what
was next to be done. At this critical moment, a Negro soldier stepped
forward, and, aiming his musket directly at the major's bosom, blew
him through.[579] Who was this intrepid black soldier, who at a
critical moment stepped to the front, and with certain aim brought
down the incarnate enemy of the colonists? What was his name, and
whence came he to battle? His name was Peter Salem, a private in Col
Nixon's regiment of the Continental Army.

"He was born in Framingham [Massachusetts], and was held as
a slave, probably until he joined the army: whereby, if not
before, he became free. ... Peter served faithfully as a
soldier, during the war."[580]

Perhaps Salem was then a slave: probably he thought of the chains and
stripes from whence he had come, of the liberty to be purchased in the
ordeals of war, and felt it his duty to show himself worthy of his
position as an American soldier. He proved that his shots were as
effective as those of a white soldier, and that he was not wanting in
any of the elements that go to make up the valiant soldier.
Significant indeed that a Negro was the first to open the hostilities
between Great Britain and the colonies, - the first to pour out his
blood as a precious libation on the altar of a people's rights; and
that here, at Bunker Hill, when the crimson and fiery tide of battle
seemed to be running hard against the small band of colonists, a Negro
soldier's steady musket brought down the haughty form of the
arch-rebel, and turned victory to the weak! England had loaded the
African with chains, and doomed him to perpetual bondage in the
North-American colonies; and when she came to forge political chains,
in the flames of fratricidal war, for an English-speaking people, the
Negro, whom she had grievously wronged, was first to meet her
soldiers, and welcome them to a hospitable grave.

Bunker-hill Monument has a charm for loyal Americans; and the Negro,
too, may gaze upon its enduring magnificence. It commemorates the
deeds, not of any particular soldier, but all who stood true to the
principles of equal rights and free government on that memorable "17th
of June."

"No name adorns the shaft; but ages hence, though our
alphabets may become as obscure as those which cover the
monuments, of Nineveh and Babylon, its uninscribed surface
(on which monarchs might be proud to engrave their titles)
will perpetuate the memory of the 17th of June. It is the
monument of the day, of the event, of the battle of Bunker
Hill; of all the brave men who shared its perils, - alike of
Prescott and Putnam and Warren, the chiefs of the day, and
the colored man, Salem, who is reported to have shot the
gallant Pitcairn, as he mounted the parapet. Cold as the
clods on which it rests, still as the silent heavens to
which it soars, it is yet vocal, eloquent, in their
undivided praise."[581]

The other Negro soldier who won for himself rare fame and
distinguished consideration in the action at Bunker Hill was Salem
Poor. Delighted with his noble bearing, his superior officers could
not refrain from calling the attention of the civil authorities to the
facts that came under their personal observation. The petition that
set forth his worth as a brave soldier is still preserved in the
manuscript archives of Massachusetts: -

"_To the Honorable General Court of the Massachusetts Bay_.

"The subscribers beg leave to report to your Honorable House
(which we do in justice to the character of so brave a man),
that, under our own observation, we declare that a negro man
called Salem Poor, of Col. Frye's regiment, Capt. Ames'
company, in the late battle at Charlestown, behaved like an
experienced officer, as well as an excellent soldier. To set
forth particulars of his conduct would be tedious. We would
only beg leave to say, in the person of this said negro
centres a brave and gallant soldier. The reward due to so
great and distinguished a character, we submit to the

JOSHUA ROW, Lieut. | JOHN MORTON, Sergt.[?]

"CAMBRIDGE, Dec. 5, 1775.

"In Council, Dec. 21, 1775. - Read, and sent down.

"PEREZ MORTON, _Dep'y Sec'y._"[582]

How many other Negro soldiers behaved with cool and determined valor
at Bunker Hill, it is not possible to know. But many were there; they
did their duty as faithful men, and their achievements are the
heritage of the free of all colors under our one flag. Col. Trumbull,
an artist as well as a soldier, who was stationed at Roxbury,
witnessed the engagement from that elevation. Inspired by the scene,
when it was yet fresh in his mind, he painted the historic picture of
the battle in 1786. He represents several Negroes in good view, while
conspicuous in the foreground is the redoubtable Peter Salem. Some
subsequent artists - mere copyists - have sought to consign this black
hero to oblivion, but 'tis vain. Although the monument at Bunker Hill
"does not bear his name, the pencil of the artist has portrayed the
scene, the pen of the impartial historian has recorded his
achievement, and the voice of the eloquent orator has resounded his

Major Samuel Lawrence "at one time commanded a company whose rank and
file were all Negroes, of whose courage, military discipline, and
fidelity he always spoke with respect. On one occasion, being out
reconnoitring with this company, he got so far in advance of his
command, that he was surrounded, and on the point of being made
prisoner by the enemy. The men, soon discovering his peril, rushed to
his rescue, and fought with the most determined bravery till that
rescue was effectually secured. He never forgot this circumstance, and
ever after took especial pains to show kindness and hospitality to any
individual of the colored race who came near his dwelling."[583]

Gen. Lee, of the American army, was captured by Col. Harcourt of the
British army. It was regarded as a very distressing event; and
preparations were made to capture a British officer of the same rank,
so an exchange could be effected. Col. Barton of the Rhode-Island
militia, a brave and cautious officer, was charged with the capture of
Major-Gen. Prescott, commanding the royal army at Newport. On the
night of the 9th of July, 1777, Col. Barton, with forty men, in two
boats with muffled oars, evaded the enemy's boats, and, being taken
for the sentries at Prescott's head-quarters, effected that officer's
capture - a Negro taking him. The exploit was bold and successful.

"They landed about five miles from Newport, and
three-quarters of a mile from the house, which they
approached cautiously, avoiding the main guard, which was
at some distance. _The Colonel went foremost, with a stout,
active negro close behind him, and another at a small
distance; the rest followed so as to be near, but not seen_.

"A single sentinel at the door saw and hailed the Colonel;
he answered by exclaiming against, and inquiring for, rebel
prisoners, but kept slowly advancing. The sentinel again
challenged him, and required the countersign. He said he had
not the countersign, but amused the sentry by talking about
rebel prisoners, and still advancing till he came within
reach of the bayonet, which, he presenting, the Colonel
suddenly struck aside and seized him. He was immediately
secured, and ordered to be silent, on pain of instant death.
_Meanwhile, the rest of the men surrounding the house, the
negro, with his head, at the second stroke forced a passage
into it, and then into the landlord's apartment. The
landlord at first refused to give the necessary
intelligence; but, on the prospect of present death he
pointed to the General's chamber, which being instantly
opened by the negro's head, the Colonel calling the General
by name, told him he was a prisoner_."[584]

Another account was published by a surgeon of the army, and is given
here: -

"_Albany_, Aug. 3, 1777. - The pleasing information is
received here that Lieut.-Col. Barton, of the Rhode-Island
militia, planned a bold exploit for the purpose of
surprising and taking Major-Gen. Prescott, the commanding
officer of the royal army at Newport. Taking with him, in
the night, about forty men, in two boats, with oars muffled,
he had the address to elude the vigilance of the
ships-of-war and guard-boats: and, having arrived
undiscovered at the quarters of Gen. Prescott, they were
taken for the sentinels; and the general was not alarmed
till his captors were at the door of his lodging-chamber,
which was fast closed. _A negro man, named Prince, instantly
thrust his beetle head through the panel door; and seized
his victim while in bed...._ This event is extremely
honorable to the enterprising spirit of Col. Barton, and is
considered as ample retaliation for the capture of Gen. Lee
by Col. Harcourt. The event occasions great joy and
exultation, as it puts in our possession an officer of equal
rank with Gen. Lee, by which means an exchange may be
obtained. Congress resolved that an elegant sword should be
presented to Col. Barton for his brave exploit."[585]

Col. Barton evidently entertained great respect for the valor and
trustworthiness of the Negro soldier whom he made the chief actor in a
most hazardous undertaking. It was the post of honor; and the Negro
soldier Prince discharged the duty assigned him in a manner that was
entirely satisfactory to his superior officer, and crowned as one of
the most daring and brilliant _coups d'état_ of the American

The battle of Rhode Island, fought on the 29th of August, 1778, was
one of the severest of the Revolution. Newport was laid under siege by
the British. Their ships-of-war moved up the bay on the morning of the
action, and opened a galling fire upon the exposed right flank of the
American army; while the Hessian columns, stretching across a chain of
the "highland," attempted to turn Gen. Greene's flank, and storm the
advanced redoubt. The heavy cannonading that had continued since nine
in the morning was now accompanied by heavy skirmishing; and the
action began to be general all along the lines. The American army was
disposed in three lines of battle; the first extended in front of
their earthworks on Butt's Hill, the second in rear of the hill, and
the third as reserve a half-mile in the rear of the advance line. At
ten o'clock the battle was at white heat. The British vessels kept up
a fire that greatly annoyed the Americans, but imparted courage to the
Hessians and British infantry. At length the foot columns massed, and
swept down the slopes of Anthony's Hill with the impetuosity of a
whirlwind. But the American columns received them with the intrepidity
and coolness of veterans. The loss of the enemy was fearful.

"Sixty were found dead in one spot. At another, thirty
Hessians were buried in one grave. Major-Gen. Greene
commanded on the right. Of the four brigades under his
immediate command, Varnum's, Glover's, Cornell's and
Greene's, all suffered severely, but Gen. Varnum's perhaps
the most. A third time the enemy, with desperate courage and
increased strength, attempted to assail the redoubt, and
would have carried it but for the timely aid of two
continental battalions despatched by Sullivan to support his
almost exhausted troops. It was in repelling these furious
onsets, that the newly raised black regiment, under Col.
Greene, distinguished itself by deeds of desperate valor.
Posted behind a thicket in the valley, they three times
drove back the Hessians who charged repeatedly down the hill
to dislodge them; and so determined were the enemy in these
successive charges, that the day after the battle the
Hessian colonel, upon whom this duty had devolved, applied
to exchange his command and go to New York, because he dared
not lead his regiment again to battle, lest his men should
shoot him for having caused them so much loss."[586]

A few years later the Marquis de Chastellux, writing of this regiment,
said, -

"The 5th [of January, 1781] I did not set out till eleven,
although I had thirty miles' journey to Lebanon. At the
passage to the ferry, I met with a detachment of the
Rhode-Island regiment, the same corps we had with us all
the last summer, but they have since been recruited and
clothed. The greatest part of them are negroes or mulattoes;
but they are strong, robust men, and those I have seen had a
very good appearance.'"[587]

On the 14th of May, 1781, the gallant Col. Greene was surprised and
murdered at Point's Bridge, New York, but it was not effected until
his brave black soldiers had been cut to pieces in defending their
leader. It was one of the most touching and beautiful incidents of the
war, and illustrates the self-sacrificing devotion of Negro soldiers
to the cause of American liberty.

At a meeting of the Congregational and Presbyterian Anti-Slavery
Society, at Francestown, N.H., the Rev. Dr. Harris, himself a

Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 42 of 57)