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Blacks and the Revolutionary War - History

Blacks and the Revolutionary War - History

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Blacks participated fully in the War of Independence. Two Blacks, Peter Salme and Salem Poor, were commended for their bravery at Bumker Hill. On July 9th 1776, General George Washington announced there would be no further enlistment of Blacks in the army. On October 23rd, the Congress supported Washington's action. On November 7th, the deposed British governor of Virginia issued a proclamation promising freedom to any slave who signed up on the Royal side. Many took up the British offer. It had the effect, however, of strengthening the southern colonies' dedication to the revolutionary cause. On December 31st, Washington reversed his earlier decision and authorized the enlistment of Blacks. 5,000 Blacks participated in the war on the American side.

Blacks and the Revolutionary War - History

Blacks during the American Revolution


For a long time historians have grappled with one of the most notable intellectual paradoxes in American history, how the founding fathers could promote the A equal rights of man @ and talk of their A enslavement @ by the Crown while simultaneously holding 1/5 of their population in bondage. Additionally, some are concerned with the question of why abolition or widespread emancipation didn't occur at this period in time when revolutionary and republican rhetoric existed alongside of anti-slavery sentiments and both had loyal supporters. Many have posited that Americans were speaking solely of political enslavement and slaves = exclusion from the political body made it easier for the Americans to make claims that seem so obviously hypocritical. Whether or not whites were able to justify to themselves the exclusion of the black community from their cries for freedom, the parallels revolutionary rhetoric had to their own condition were not lost on slaves. Many took advantage of the revolutionary crisis and ran away and joined either side in hopes to attain their own independence.

-Part I- Slavery and Emancipation in the Age of the Revolution

By the Revolution roughly 1/3 of families in the Chesapeake had slaves and in the low country slaves often outnumbered whites. In the South there developed two different types of slavery based on the staple crop of the region. In the Chesapeake they grew mostly tobacco and they developed a gang labor system and patriarchal plantation management. On the rice coast it was a task system and the slaves did not interact as intimately with their white masters.

Though black and white southerners interacted, they were part of separate cultures. The white elites reenforced the importance of the plantation house, the courthouse, and the church, which were the primary components of their system of social domination. As the slave populations began to increase, so did the severity of legal punishments aimed towards them, and a separate judicial processes were created for slaves, embodied in the slave code. In Virginia, for example, the House of Burgesses proclaimed in 1639 that only white Virginians could arm themselves. Previous to this time free blacks and slaves were not excluded for carrying arms or serving in the Virginia militia. Yet during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 both sides promised slaves freedom in exchange for military service, similar to what would happen over 100 years later. The slave code of 1705 explicitly denied slaves the right to serve in the military and denied free blacks equal status with whites in the services. And the codes of 1723 and 1748 allowed free blacks to only serve as trumpeters or drummers.

Similar and even harsher slave codes existed in other states. The 1740 slave code in South Carolina made it legal to kill a slave who was away from the house or plantation, even if that person did not resist. Georgia = s code came 15 years later and actually encouraged the killing of runaways, offering a reward twice as much for a dead male slave than a captured live female. The white colonists feared slave insurrection and increasingly restricted their movements and actions. Their fears were well justified, during the 2 decades prior to the war slave unrest was at an all-time high. In times of crisis, however, people were willing to compromise their sense of security in order to win the war.

In addition to tensions among whites and their slaves, anxiety was building in places like Boston since the 1760s after a series of events including the public outcry against the Sugar and Stamp Acts. British soldiers stationed there and in other cities took jobs away from sailors and other working-class people, among whom blacks were represented. On March 5 th , 1770 British soldiers fired into a violent mob that had congregated outside the Custom House on King Street in Boston. Crispus Attucks was a runaway ex-slave of African and Natick Indian origins and worked as a sailor. He was one of many seaman and dock workers present at the conflict and he was the first of five American killed by British soldiers at what became known as the Boston Massacre, which took place five year before the battle of Lexington.

-patriot propagandists used this to unite for the cause.

In June 1772, James Somersett sued for his freedom in English courts. Somersett, a slave taken to England by his master Charles Stuart, ran away but was recaptured and bound for Jamaica.. Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King = s Bench, ruled that Somersett be released because slavery is A so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it. . @ His decision outlawed slavery in England, but did not apply to British colonies. When the news reached the colonies however, American slaves began petitioning for their own freedom. The General Court in Boston received in January 1773 the first petition in which a slave argued that the Mansfield decision should apply to the colonies. Mansfield = s decision was not extended to the colonies in this instance, but it provided fodder for the belief of many slaves that their best chance for freedom lay with the British. They believed the Brits held a widely different view of slavery than the majority of Americans. Though many blacks were able to serve in the war, the freedom they were expecting was rarely realized.

-Part II- African Americans as Soldiers

On April 19 th , 1775, a Lexington slave named Prince Easterbrooks was one of the first persons shot at Concord Bridge. He survived and went on to fight in nearly every major campaign of the Revolution. His presence at these battles was not unusual. In the early battles at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, free and enslaved blacks fought alongside white Patriots. After these battles however, blacks increasingly became excluded. The Committee of Safety resolved that only free men could enter the army by late May, and in September a delegate from South Carolina presented a resolution to the Continental Congress urging the dismissal of all blacks from the army. It was not accepted, but several officers followed their own policies of excluding all blacks from serving. Patriots also took measures to thwart the possibility of their slaves escaping to the British. In Virginia, for example, some slaves who were suspected of future attempts at escape were sent to remote areas of the state to work in lead mines, others were even incarcerated.

The British were not as willing as the patriots to reject this pool of potential manpower. They saw possibility in the revolutionary fervor of so many rebellious blacks. Though instead of channeling this enthusiasm for rebellion, the British hoped that the very threat of rebellion would pacify the colonists and that the actual desertion of slaves would cause great economic hardship. By the summer 1775, John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore, and the last royal Governor of Virginia found his ranks reduced to 300 men and announced that he welcomed men, regardless of race. 100 black runaways joined Dunmore by the fall, during which time he was leading spoiling operations along Virginia = s waterways. On November 7 th , Dunmore declared martial law and issued his famous proclamation while on board the William. It reads as follows:

READ DUNMORE'S PROCLAMATION. (For a copy, see: http://collections.ic.gc.ca/blackloyalists/. and go to bottom of page and click on the link to Lord Dunmore's procalmation. The page also has a link to information about the "Ethopian Regiment" that was recruited and fought for Dunmore.))

Dunmore did not intend to emancipate all slaves and indentured servants. He owned slaves himself and did not free them during this revolutionary period. Dunmore offered freedom only to those able-bodied slaves belonging to rebels and he did not want to provoke mass slave rebellion. Within a month he had nearly 300 blacks in his regiment. By the following summer at least 800 blacks had joined Dunmore = s troops, then stationed on Gwynn = s Island. But disease struck, and when Dunmore left Virginia on August 7 th , all but 300 blacks had died of fevers.

On June 30 th 1779, Sir Henry Clinton, the Commander-in-Chief, extended Dunmore = s offer throughout the colonies. In his Philippsburg Declaration Clinton stated that A every Negro who shall desert the Rebel Standard [is granted] full security to follow within these Lines, any Occupation which he shall think proper. @ Most historians figure that seventy-five to one hundred thousand blacks sided with the British it has been estimated that 30,000 came from VA, 25,000 from SC and around 11,000 from GA.. Both Dunmore and Clinton = s declarations freed some blacks, but ultimately they upheld the institution of slavery.

One notorious slave, known as colonel Tye, escaped to British lines here in our home state of New Jersey.

In 1776 Congress allowed the recruitment of free blacks and within a year shortages of soldiers encouraged the Patriots to accept blacks in large numbers into the military. The majority of black Patriot troops came from Northern states. But even states such as South Carolina and Georgia that prohibited the enlistment of blacks, used them as auxiliaries. Possibly 5,000 of the 30,000 Patriot troops were black. General Washington accommodated, if not exactly encouraged, the recruitment of free blacks when, on Jan. 12 th 1777, he instructed that recruiters A enlist none but Freemen. @ He conspicuously failed to mention race. Connecticut passed an act that allowed for the exemption of any two men who could provide a substitute, no matter his color. They also soon passed a second act that allowed masters to provide their slaves as substitutes, as long as the slave was granted his freedom. Rhode Island was the first state to pass a slave enlistment act, and in 1778 the First Rhode Island Regiment was formed and over the next five years 250 former slaves and freeman served within its ranks. They were the only all-black American unit at the siege at Yorktown and formed an important part of Major General Benjamin Lincoln = s division. They were present for the digging of the first parallel on the evening of October 6 th as well during treaty negotiations and the British surrender 2 days later.

Many blacks also served on warships or on private vessels. The Continental Navy, unlike the army, recruited blacks, both free and enslaved, from the beginning of the Revolutionary war. This was partly due to their need for sailors of any race, but also that many blacks were experienced, having worked on merchant ships or by serving in the British and state navies. As many as a quarter of the slaves who escaped to the British ended up on ships. Blacks on both sides served as pilots, carpenters, laborers, and also often performed a range of menial duties.

It was with these menial labors that most blacks involved in the war were employed. Patriots were uneasy with the notion of arming slaves, and even the British often used blacks as a means of liberating other white soldiers for combat. In actuality, the majority of blacks who participated in the Revolution helped behind the lines instead of fighting. When blacks were incorporated into the British army, the loyalists often maintained a racialized structure and made limited use of the black troops in combat. Several hundred of Cornwallis = s black troops served as body servants or were employed in other servile capacities. At Petersburg Cornwallis issued regulations that allowed each field officer to keep two black servants and other officers were allowed to keep one. Soldiers also disobeyed orders and had black servants. Blacks were thought to have a better tolerance for heat and were often assigned the heavy labor when the weather was considered too disagreeable for the white troops.

There were also many complaints that the British army in particular did not provide adequate food, clothing, or medicine for their slave and free black populations. The death rate from disease was conspicuously higher among black troops than white. Overcrowding just intensified the problem. Small Pox ravaged the troops and hundreds and maybe thousands of blacks died from the disease. Patriots commented that the British would turn out the sick black soldiers so that they had to fend for themselves or hope to find help among the patriots, which was usually lacking.

-blacks saw hope in the armies for their independence, but they weren't completely blind to the realities of service.

-Part III- Winning Freedom in a Revolutionary Age

Of the Blacks who sought freedom with the British, thousands may have died of disease, particularly smallpox, or in combat. But thousands of others survived and their fates varied widely. More than 20,000 blacks, mostly the slaves of Loyalists but also many who had earned their freedom, left with the British, who often resisted American demands for their runaways. Some went on to fight with the British in the Bahamas shortly after the 1783 peace treaty. An estimated 15,000 sailed from Savannah, New York, and Charleston to Nova Scotia, Jamaica, Nassau, and England. The British did not extend the freedom prescribed by Dunmore to the slaves of Loyalists. Most slaves were taken to the Caribbean and most freemen went to Canada and England.

The story of Boston King illustrates the experience of one black loyalist through the duration of the war.

Though his story is by no means representative, Boston King = s experiences demonstrate how even those free black loyalists who considered themselves lucky to be free and alive still had to endure unimaginable suffering. Just because they were no longer enslaved didn = t mean that they did not encounter racism and unaccommodating social systems.

The British and patriot armies were concerned much more with military success than they were with the manumission of slaves. Even Lord Dunmore, who was radical in his willingness to arm slaves had his limits. When he was unable to accommodate all of the slaves that arrived, he forced many blacks to return to their owners. Only slaves belonging to loyalists were returned, which shows that it was a political tactic rather than a humanitarian concern to offer freedom to slaves. This is most obvious in the framing of the declaration of Independence and the Constitution, neither of which abolish slavery or offer concessions to the free and enslaved black populations.

However, despite the numerous obstacles, many notable blacks came forth during the Revolutionary era and provided a challenge to white racial theories. The Revolution intensified abolitionist sentiment particularly in the North. Yet even many southern states loosened their laws guarding against manumissions. In 1782, Virginia passed a law permitting manumissions, but on the condition that former owners remain responsible for those unable to support themselves. During the next decade 1,000 slaves were manumitted in that state. During this same time however, the Assembly passed a bill condemning owners who A contrary to principles of justice and to their own solemn promise @ kept in bondage those blacks who had served as their substitutes during the war.

Historian Sylvia Frey has argued that economic reasons were likely the primary factor inhibiting manumissions. She states that the volume of runaways created a severe slave labor shortage. By 1780 inflation and British raids had driven the price of A common planting [slaves] @ to over 4,000 pounds and of A boys and girls @ to 3,000 pounds in terms of current money. It is very possible that the demand for slave labor, which continued into the postwar years, inhibited rather than inspired the movement for emancipation. @

Granted, we have the benefit of hindsight and know that slavery was eventually abolished in the North by legislation or judicial decision, with New Jersey being the last to act in 1804 with the passage of a gradual emancipation law. It required more than the courts to abolish slavery elsewhere.

Both the British and the Americans were afraid to arm blacks. Yet blacks were probably present on one or both sides for every major battle of the Revolution. Both armies accepted or enlisted blacks in the military to win the war, not to enact social change. The Revolution gave blacks a chance to articulate and indulge their desire for freedom. While the war did not lead to emancipation, it united blacks in their belief of freedom. It helped to create a sense of community and gave them a position from which to fight for the abolition of slavery.

Note: Boston King: Phyllis R. Blakeley: "Boston King: A Negro Loyalists who sought refuge in Nova Scotia." Dalhousie Review (Canada). Fall, 1968, 48(3): 347-356. He also wrote his memoirs for the Methodists which is available online at the above site and in a few collections.

Colonel Tye: See, Nash's Race and Revolution and in Graham Hodges' African Americans in Monmouth County during the Age of the American Revolution.

Black Soldiers Played an Undeniable but Largely Unheralded Role in Founding the United States

Just after dawn on Christmas Day 2020, Clarence Snead Jr., received a phone call with harrowing news: The Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Providence, Rhode Island, was ablaze. Snead, whose nickname is “Grand” (for “Most Worshipful Grand Master”), rushed the half-hour drive to the lodge on Eddy Street and found the building engulfed in flames.

The lodge had a remarkable history that a passerby might not suspect from the two-story wooden structure a destructive blaze would strike a terrible blow for historic preservation. It housed one of the earliest organizations established by African Americans, stretching back to the era of Prince Hall, a black Bostonian and Revolutionary War veteran. Hall started the first lodge for black Freemasons in his home city in the 1770s with a charter obtained from British Freemasons, because Massachusetts’ white Masonic brethren rejected his application. The arc of Hall’s life and legacy point to the underappreciated role played by African Americans in the Revolution, an indication that the path to black civil rights is as old as the nation itself.

As founder of America’s first fraternal organization for African Americans, Hall has the stature of a founding father. Over time the group came to be called Prince Hall Freemasons Prince Hall Masonic lodges spread across the country in the 1800s and continue today.

The lodge in Providence where Snead serves as Grand Master was one of the first that Hall organized outside of Boston. “We’re the second lodge that Prince Hall came down and established,” Snead said recently by phone. After the fire, he said, the building was “totaled,” its charred exterior matched by a gutted inside. The lodge was one of just three founded by Hall during his lifetime.

Recognition of Hall by historians and the general public outside of the Masonic community has been scarce. That started to change when the Cambridge, Massachusetts politician E. Denise Simmons proposed a public monument to Hall, who is buried just across the Charles River in Boston’s Copp’s Hill burying ground. The memorial was unveiled in 2010 on the Cambridge Common, where legend holds that George Washington took command of the Continental Army and may have encountered Hall. Six black stone obelisks stand in a near circle, with inscriptions about Hall’s life including his service in the Revolution.

“When you study Prince Hall, you learn he became a Mason because he saw this philosophy of Masonry as a way to advance his cause, to free his brethren and sisters,” says Simmons, who sees a throughline between Hall and Martin Luther King, who she says “stands squarely on the shoulders of Prince Hall.” Her grandfather, a guidepost of her early life, was a Prince Hall Mason in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Red Mitchell, a lifetime Prince Hall Mason, supported Simmons on the committee for the memorial. He says the principles of Prince Hall Freemasonry boil down to “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all man.”

For him, the memorial also speaks to the unsung black participation in the Revolutionary War. “A lot of people think this monument is just about Prince Hall, but it represents more, the start of emancipation, and the first blacks to truly call themselves African-Americans,’’ Mitchell told the Boston Globe before the memorial was unveiled. “We’re talking about those patriots of African descent who helped lay the foundation of our nation during the Revolutionary period.’’

The details of Hall’s life are patchy for the reason that bedevils African American history generally: a dearth of research documenting black lives. His birthplace may or may not have been Barbados. (In The Atlantic, scholar Danielle Hall suggests he was born in Boston.) He learned the leatherworking trade from his enslaver, William Hall, possibly enjoying some freedom before being formally emancipated by 1770. He founded the Masonic lodge by 1775, fought for the Continental Army, petitioned and gave speeches for ending slavery, and started a school in his home for children of color, all before his death in 1807

A Revolutionary War veteran, Prince Hall established the United States' first fraternal organization for African Americans. (Via Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain)

In recent years a few historians have uncovered more about the significance of black fraternal organizations. Cécile Révauger, emeritus professor of history at Bordeaux University in France, published Black Freemasonry: From Prince Hall to the Giants of Jazz in 2016. (The subtitle refers to W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington and Count Basie were Prince Hall Masons, as were movement leaders W.E.B. Du Bois and Thurgood Marshall.) Révauger notes in her book that black Freemasonry, which has been too little studied, can yield insights “both for the history of Freemasonry and for that of black Americans.” She writes, “Freemasonry was the first institution created by blacks in a large number of states… even before black churches.”

Mitchell, 93, has reviewed much of the research about Hall and the Revolutionary War experience of African Americans, especially in New England. In a recent phone call, he explained that state-by-state review of records from the war showed that white colonialists “would sign up for three months or six months, and then go back home” to tend their farms or shops. Black and Native American recruits tended to stay in their regiments longer. In Mitchell’s words, “they found themselves with guns in their hands, a little money in their pockets and belonging to something.”

Black veterans who survived, says Mitchell, came back with new convictions and created institutions for their communities. Some hoped to gain freedom with their military service, others already had their freedom. In New England, they started black churches, schools and fraternal organizations including Masonic lodges. “This was the beginning of the civil rights movement and the possibility of blacks organizing,” he says.

For generations, the Daughters of the American Revolution resisted membership applications from black Americans and didn’t admit its first Black member until 1977. When a Washington state chapter declined to admit Lena S. Ferguson, a school secretary, in 1984, she prepared to sue and obtained a settlement from the organization that forced it to rewrite its bylaws to explicitly state it was open women of all backgrounds. The agreement also committed the DAR to commission research on the role of African American troops during the war. That resulted in the publication of Forgotten Patriots, a 2008 publication that contains over 6,600 names of people of African American, Native American and blended backgrounds who joined the fighting force of the Continental Army.

That research was painstaking, recalls Louis Wilson, emeritus professor of Africana Studies at Smith College and co-director of Harvard’s Black Patriot Project. The challenge he faced as a historian was finding the evidence of service, thousands of old records and notes squirreled away in local archives. A 2003 conference brought Wilson and fellow historians together to coordinate their methods for a multi-state effort to document African American Revolutionary troops. They then delved into materials that DAR had amassed and complemented those records with their own state-by-state hunting in small archives. Each name needed at least two primary sources to be counted.

Wilson found that New England slaveholders assigned unusual names to the enslaved, like Caesar, Pharoah, and Prince. Wilson says these names were another way of setting the enslaved apart, a way of signaling publicly, “You’re not white.”

Beyond counting these men (he hasn’t found any women in the records so far), the evidence gave Wilson a glimpse of their lives. In Rhode Island, many were free Blacks who provided military service in place of someone white. These were colonists who, expecting a British invasion, preferred to keep close to home rather than serve in a remote place like Pennsylvania. So, they joined the state militia (which stayed in Rhode Island) and found black men to fill spots for the Continental Army.

Some were drummers and fifers, positions that received better pay than regular soldiers regardless of whether they were Native American, African, or “mustee” (a term used for people of mixed Native American and African heritage). Those ranks held more prestige as well as more danger, since they marched in front. But none were officers. Wilson and his colleagues in other states found no records of African American or Native American soldiers deserting or abandoning their units. “Most blacks enlisted and stayed in because they had a better quality of life there than they did as civilians,” he says.

Black soldier Peter Salem shooting British Major Pitcairn at the Battle of Bunker Hill (Corbis via Getty Images)

In Massachusetts, the documents hint at the range of the black veterans’ stories. Cuff Leonard of Bristol (now a part of Maine) served in 1777-1778 and then returned to the roster of the 7th Regiment until his discharge on June 10, 1783 by General Washington. He was awarded a medal for capturing six Hessians. Pompey Peters of Worcester enlisted in May 1778 and served five years, survived a skirmish at the Battle of Monmouth, and was present at the British surrender at Yorktown.

One 22-year-old from Hanover, southeast of Boston, enlisted for three years in the 2nd Plymouth County Regiment. He was at Valley Forge during the brutal winter encampment of early 1778 and discharged in 1780. Many years later, his pension application recounted that he’d been stolen from Africa as an 8-year-old boy, brought to America and sold to a man named Bailey. After the war he resumed life under his birth name, Dunsick. He married and raised a family on land he bought in Leeds, Maine.

Red Mitchell believes that black veterans returned with connections to their compatriots in other states, and that nurtured the spread of Prince Hall Masonic lodges in places like Providence and Philadelphia. The lodges in both cities trace their origins to charters from Prince Hall in 1792.

Hall’s influence would be felt beyond the Masonic community. After the Revolution, he had become one of Boston’s most prominent black citizens and led another petition to the Massachusetts General Court in 1788 to end the slave trade. Along with petitions by the Quakers and Boston ministers, Hall’s appeal led to the state passing an act in March 1788 to end the slave trade there. Rhode Island’s new constitution, too, left out slavery.

Was Hall’s activism crucial? “The petitions certainly played a role,” notes Révauger, “but Prince Hall Masons were not the only abolitionists at the time.” Still, says Red Mitchell, Hall’s advocacy was amplified by prominent white Bostonians who encountered him, including John Adams and Jeremy Belknap, who founded the Boston Athenaeum, one of America’s oldest independent libraries. “So he had the things going for him that I’m sure influenced his interest, knowhow and ability to organize,” says Mitchell.

For Wilson, the Prince Hall memorial stands for the thousands of others like him who fought in the war. “It's about how the war transformed America.”

One reason black Revolutionary veterans weren’t counted by history until now involved the process for dispensing pensions. A veteran had to submit a document to confirm his claim. For many the only document was their discharge papers. “I have 12 discharge papers signed by George Washington for blacks who fought in Rhode Island,” said Wilson. “The irony is those discharge papers with George Washington's name on them did not go back to the family. They remained in Washington, D.C. So over time, the family had no history of that event.”

Now thanks to the work of Wilson, University of Massachusetts historian Sidney Kaplan and other researchers, the DAR has several dozen black members in their organization.

An illustration for a Masonic conference featuring the names of Prince Hall Masonic orders. (Knights Templar (Masonic order). International Conference (7th : 1920 : Cincinnati, Ohio) via Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain)

But changing America’s origin story isn’t easy. The true number of black Revolutionary troops is most likely higher than the 6,600 names in Forgotten Patriots , according to Wilson, who logged more than 700 names in Rhode Island alone. Kaplan documented 1,246 names in Massachusetts, four times the figure listed in Forgotten Patriots . “Twelve hundred changes the equation about who served and what the war was about,” according to Wilson. With numbers that high, he says, “We've got to ask, ‘So what was this war about now? And who are the heroes?’”

Meanwhile Clarence Snead has started a Gofundme campaign to rebuild the Masonic lodge in Providence. “We have a plan [for rebuilding],” he says after going through the site with a contractor. “We’re not sitting around, because that’s not what Prince Hall would want us to do.”

Editor's note, March 3, 2021: This story has been updated to clarify that Jeremy Belknap founded the Massachusetts Historical Society and not the Boston Athenaeum.

Slavery and the Revolutionary War

It is difficult to shrink something as enormous as slavery into one generalized picture. Some slave-owners ran businesses some owned plantations. The kind of work a slave did varied from house to house. Field work might consist of plowing, weeding, planting, and tending tobacco, corn, cotton, sugar cane, tomatoes, or other vegetables. Inside work might include cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and similar tasks.

A rendering of a slave owner inspecting his slave before sale. Public domain image.

How well or how badly slaves were treated also varied from place to place however, as a general rule, small homes with five or less slaves would be closer and more tight-knit sometimes almost like a family. Large plantations with hundreds of slaves would be much more disciplined and strict.

Slaves were bought and sold at auctions like household objects or livestock, used as footer or payment for debt, or their services were sold to earn money for their masters.

A poster advertising a slave auction. | Public domain image.

Some masters, not necessarily all, were downright cruel. Whites were not responsible to the law or to anyone for what happened with their slaves. They might kill one without repercussion.

Most slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write. Their owners were afraid that they would pass messages to slaves on other plantations and start a revolt. If a slave-owner caught his slave learning to read or write, he could be punished with up to 300 lashes. The severity of punishment depended on each owner. Punishments for disobedient or rebellious slaves could be as harsh as whipping or could even include the dismemberment of hands or feet if a slave fought back or ran away.

Working from sunrise to well after dark was common. Runaways were hunted like animals and imprisoned if they survived.

Female slaves, especially the ones who lived in the house, were in danger from the male overseers and masters of the house. Young mulattoes (half-white, half-black) were usually sold as young as possible to get them out of the house and away from their vengeful mistresses. If they were white enough, they could sometimes run away, pass as whites, and live normal lives.

Revolutionary War

Slavery, though it was established long before the Revolutionary War broke out, was affected like everything else when the war began. Slave-owners were afraid to leave for war in case the slaves rose up and slaughtered their families in their absence. They didn’t want to give slaves weapons to fight for the same reason, in case they used them against their owners.

The slaves wanted to fight for their freedom. Some of the officers in the army, namely Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens wanted to give them that chance and create several battalions of Negroes who would fight with the Patriots in exchange for their freedom. They warned the Patriots that if they didn’t offer the slaves their freedom, Britain would.

Illustrated cards presenting the journey of a slave from plantation life to the struggle for liberty, for which he gives his life. By James Fuller Queen in 1863. | Public domain image.

The idea was shut down by the South Carolina legislature for several reasons:

  • Charleston port was the most lucrative for slave import and export after the Boston Harbor was closed down following the Boston Tea Party.
  • The primary reason was that the slave-owners in the legislature were against it.

Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation

Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation | Public domain image.

The British Governor, Lord Dunmore, jumped on this idea and printed a proclamation announcing that any slaves who ran away and fought for the British army would be freed when the war was over.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 runaway slaves signed their name in his ledger. Some freed blacks fought with the Tories, colonists loyal to the king, as well. It is estimated that around 10,000 slaves escaped or died during the war.

After the British lost the war, Lord Dunmore followed through on his promise. Those whose names were signed into the ledger, now referred to as “The Book of Negroes,” were relocated to Jamaica, Nova Scotia, and Britain.

Colonel Tye

This is the ad that Titus’ owner, John Corlis, placed in the paper when he ran away. Click here to read the transcription. Public domain image.

Perhaps the most well-known of the slaves who joined the British Ranks is Colonel Tye, originally Titus. He ran away from home at age 22 and joined the British Ethiopian Regiment. He took the title colonel it wasn’t given to him by the British army.

His ruthless guerrilla raids with his small mixed-race band of mostly ex-slaves, called the Black Brigade, terrorized the Patriot colonies. They raided the small towns and villages, demoralizing the residents, and stealing supplies and food. Sometimes they specifically targeted their previous owners for revenge.

he feats of the Black Brigade encouraged other slaves to run away to New York, which had been overrun by the British.

Colonel Tye died of lockjaw brought on by tetanus after he took a musket shot to the wrist.

The Underground Railroad

Slavery wasn’t abolished during the American Revolution, but between the American Revolution and the American Civil War, abolitionists worked tirelessly to help slaves escape their bondage in what became known as the Underground Railroad. Read more about it here!

After the War

Some of the first efforts to end slavery began during the Revolutionary War, aided by a few of the Founding Fathers. However, at the end of the war, most of the slaves returned to their former lives.

There were slave-owners who realized the hypocrisy of owning slaves while fighting for their own independence and freed their slaves. William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is well-known for this. But most slave-owners went back to pre-revolution habits after the war.

After the war, slavery was not much changed, except that now that something as big as the war wasn’t consuming the public mind and energy, slavery came to the forefront of the public attention. Read about the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery here.

Meet three men who chose very different paths.

A valet who endured seven years of war alongside George Washington

The man in the background of this 1780 portrait likely represents William Lee. George Washington, by John Trumbull, 1780. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Charles Allen Munn, 1924 (24.109.88)

1768: Washington purchases William Lee for £61. Lee is assigned to household work.

1775: Lee travels to Washington’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As valet, he manages the general’s equipment, helps him bathe and dress, and ties the ribbon around his hair each morning.

William Lee accompanies Washington everywhere, from encampments to battlefields.

In Philadelphia, he marries Margaret Thomas, a free black woman.

1783: By war’s end, Lee is famous due to his association with the victorious general.

1799: Washington uses his will to free William Lee immediately, praising his “faithful services during the Revolution.”

Lee remains at Mount Vernon as a free man.

1811: William Lee dies. He is likely buried on the grounds of Mount Vernon.

Blacks and the Revolutionary War - History

T he American Revolution was not broadly supported by whites, and the revolutionary leaders, who acted out of their commercial interest, found it difficult to recruit anyone else to fight for them. For example, it was necessary to promise political rights to "Sons of Liberty" recruited from Boston workers, and farmers in Massachusets were offered Indian land in upper New York state as a bribe. Not surprisingly, then, especially since there was no real conviction that Blacks were inherently inferior, the white ruling class recruited Blacks to be fighters and die for their cause.

Connecticut was rather slow to bring Blacks into its militias, and so Blacks who sought to gain land or freedom through the war had to join the militias in neighboring states. For example, the Black Rhode Island Regiment fought at the important Battle of White Plains.

Shown here is the flag of the Bucks of America, c. 1786, (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society) which was a Massachusetts unit that was almost entirely Black. At the upper left is a square with the gold stars of the thirteen original colonies on a blue ground, and a buck is leaping near a pine tree. Many members of this unit came from Hartford and elsewhere in Connecticut before Blacks were allowed into the Connecticut militia.

The Secret Black History of the American Revolution

As we know all too well, the Revolutionary War was not fought so that all men could be free, but its role in creating the seeds of abolition should not be forgotten.

Alan Gilbert

A central myth of American history teaching is that the American Revolution was fought for the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” of each person. By each, Jefferson sadly meant mainly white farmers. This patriotic myth—what I call a Founding Amnesia—drove Frederick Douglass, in 1852, to declare that the Fourth of July was not for slaves.

But perhaps in contrast to its long history of racist exclusion, the Daughters of the American Revolution should first honor Black Patriots. As Georg Daniel Flohr, a German private who fought at the decisive battle of Yorktown with the French Royal Deux-Ponts for the Patriots, noted while walking around the field of battle the next day: “All over the place and wherever you looked, corpses… lying about that had not been buried the larger part of these were Mohren [Moors, Blacks].”

And as I emphasize in Black Patriots and Loyalists (2012), the acme of freedom in the American Revolution was the gradual emancipation of slaves in Vermont (not yet a state) in 1777, in Pennsylvania in 1780, in Massachusetts in 1782, in Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1784, in New York in 1799, and in New Jersey in 1804. If we ask the central question in American history: how did there come to be a free North to oppose bondage in the Civil War, the answer is, surprisingly: gradual emancipation during and just after the American Revolution. Thus, Black Patriots and their white abolitionist allies played a central, undiscussed role both in battle and in the deepening of American freedom.

African Americans and the American Revolution

James Lafayette, who supported the American cause as a spy, may have been the inspiration for the figure on the right in the 18th-century engraving, in the Jamestown-Yorktown collection, depicting the Marquis de Lafayette at Yorktown.

Only 50 years after the defeat of the British at Yorktown, most Americans had already forgotten the extensive role black people had played on both sides during the War for Independence. At the 1876 Centennial Celebration of the Revolution in Philadelphia, not a single speaker acknowledged the contributions of African Americans in establishing the nation. Yet by 1783, thousands of black Americans had become involved in the war. Many were active participants, some won their freedom and others were victims, but throughout the struggle blacks refused to be mere bystanders and gave their loyalty to the side that seemed to offer the best prospect for freedom.

By 1775 more than a half-million African Americans, most of them enslaved, were living in the 13 colonies. Early in the 18th century a few New England ministers and conscientious Quakers, such as George Keith and John Woolman, had questioned the morality of slavery but they were largely ignored. By the 1760s, however, as the colonists began to speak out against British tyranny, more Americans pointed out the obvious contradiction between advocating liberty and owning slaves. In 1774 Abigail Adams wrote, “it always appeared a most iniquitious scheme to me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.”

Widespread talk of liberty gave thousands of slaves high expectations, and many were ready to fight for a democratic revolution that might offer them freedom. In 1775 at least 10 to 15 black soldiers, including some slaves, fought against the British at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill. Two of these men, Salem Poor and Peter Salem, earned special distinction for their bravery. By 1776, however, it had become clear that the revolutionary rhetoric of the founding fathers did not include enslaved blacks. The Declaration of Independence promised liberty for all men but failed to put an end to slavery and although they had proved themselves in battle, the Continental Congress adopted a policy of excluding black soldiers from the army.

In spite of these discouragements, many free and enslaved African Americans in New England were willing to take up arms against the British. As soon states found it increasingly difficult to fill their enlistment quotas, they began to turn to this untapped pool of manpower. Eventually every state above the Potomac River recruited slaves for military service, usually in exchange for their freedom. By the end of the war from 5,000 to 8,000 blacks had served the American cause in some capacity, either on the battlefield, behind the lines in noncombatant roles, or on the seas. By 1777 some states began enacting laws that encouraged white owners to give slaves for the army in return for their enlistment bounty, or allowing masters to use slaves as substitutes when they or their sons were drafted. In the South the idea of arming slaves for military service met with such opposition that only free blacks were normally allowed to enlist in the army.

Most black soldiers were scattered throughout the Continental Army in integrated infantry regiments, where they were often assigned to support roles as wagoners, cooks, waiters or artisans. Several all-black units, commanded by white officers, also were formed and saw action against the British. Rhode Island’s Black Battalion was established in 1778 when that state was unable to meet its quota for the Continental Army. The legislature agreed to set free slaves who volunteered for the duration of the war, and compensated their owners for their value. This regiment performed bravely throughout the war and was present at Yorktown where an observer noted it was “the most neatly dressed, the best under arms, and the most precise in its maneuvers.”

Although the Southern states were reluctant to recruit enslaved African Americans for the army, they had no objections to using free and enslaved blacks as pilots and able-bodied seaman. In Virginia alone, as many as 150 black men, many of them slaves, served in the state navy. After the war, the legislature granted several of these men their freedom as a reward for faithful service. African Americans also served as gunners, sailors on privateers and in the Continental Navy during the Revolution. While the majority of blacks who contributed to the struggle for independence performed routine jobs, a few, such as James Lafayette, gained renown serving as spies or orderlies for well-known military leaders.

Black participation in the Revolution, however, was not limited to supporting the American cause, and either voluntarily or under duress thousands also fought for the British. Enslaved blacks made their own assessment of the conflict and supported the side that offered the best opportunity to escape bondage. Most British officials were reluctant to arm blacks, but as early as 1775, Virginia’s royal governor, Lord Dunmore, established an all-black “Ethiopian Regiment” composed of runaway slaves. By promising them freedom, Dunmore enticed over 800 slaves to escape from “rebel” masters. Whenever they could, enslaved blacks continued to join him until he was defeated and forced to leave Virginia in 1776. Dunmore’s innovative strategy met with disfavor in England, but to many blacks the British army came to represent liberation.

Elizabeth Freeman

The British Army saw slaves as expendable, using them as free labor with promises of freedom after the war. Some were even conscripted as personal servants or field labor, growing food for the army. George Washington lagged in allowing blacks to join and fight in his own army but was forced to open ranks as fighting, cold and deprivation depleted his own troops.

While their husbands were working as carpenters, caring for the horses, and in other areas, black women were cooking, washing clothes and in other vital roles. They played a huge part in the war, making up the workforce that repaired fortifications in southern cities such as Savannah and Charleston. Yet, they did not receive the promised and longed for freedom, status and respect after the war, but were relegated back to being virtually invisible. One slave woman had enough and took action.

Her slave name was Bett and she was generally known as Mum Bett, having a daughter called Little Bett. Her husband had served and been killed in the Revolutionary War but his sacrifice brought his widow no relief. Mum Bett and her daughter were owned by the Ashley family of Sheffield, Massachusetts. One day the mistress attempted to strike Mum Bett’s sister with a hot kitchen shovel and the brave woman stepped in front of the endangered girl taking the blow and receiving a burn mark that would remain as a scar the rest of her life. When people asked about the scar, she told them to ask Mrs. Ashley.

Mum Bett left the Ashley household and refused to return. Her master, John Ashley appealed to the law for his property to be returned. But Mum Bett was a very wise lady, having listened to John Ashley and his cronies discuss politics and legislature related to the new Massachusetts constitution that said 𠇊ll men are born free and equal.” She thought that surely applied to her also and went to an attorney who was active in the anti slavery movement, Theodore Sedgewick, asking for his help. They sued for her freedom and won. Once she was a free woman, Mum Bett took the name Elizabeth Freeman and still refused to return to john Ashley when he offered her wages.

Elizabeth Freeman’s case was presented in another court case two years later and was instrumental in Massachusetts declaring slavery unconstitutional in that state. She was a Revolutionary hero just as if she had stood shoulder to shoulder with General Washington himself. Instead of firing a rifle, Elizabeth Freeman fired justice and righteousness within the court system.

She is recorded as saying,

𠇊ny time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute&aposs freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it-just to stand one minute on God&aposs airth a free woman-I would.” Elizabeth Freeman

Link to the court transcript:

source:Africans in America Resource Bank

Historian Benjamin Quarrels On The Revolutionary War

During the summer of 1777 Capt. William Whipple, a soldier from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, noted that his slave, Prince, was quite dejected. Asked by Whipple to account for his moodiness, Prince explained, “Master, you are going to fight for your liberty, but I have none to fight for.” Struck by the essential truth of Prince’s complaint, Whipple lost no time in freeing him.

Before his emancipation Prince had been one of the oarsmen who rowed George Washington and his troops across the ice-choked Delaware River in a blinding snow and sleet storm Christmas night 1776. But had Prince Whipple not taken part in one of the most significant battles of the Revolutionary War, there was nothing unusual about his longing to be free. This yearning for freedom was common among those in bondage and its roots ran deep. The contagion of liberty had long infected blacks, reaching epidemic proportions with the outbreak of the war against England. As was the case for other Americans, regional differences characterized Afro-American culture, and within each regional group status determinants such as occupation and skin color further divided both slave and free blacks. Moreover, in ever-changing early America the patterns of black life were not static from one generation to another. But regardless of these distinctions, all blacks during the Revolutionary era shared a common goal – the pursuit of freedom and equality.

The exchange between Captain Whipple and his slave illustrated another major characteristic of Revolutionary War blacks their tendency to differ with whites in interpreting the rhetoric and the meaning of the war itself. When whites, for example, accused England of trying to enslave them, they had in mind such measures as stamp acts and trade restrictions, royal decrees and Parliamentary legislation. To white Americans the war meant freedom and liberty in a politico-economic sense rather than in the sense of personal bondage. Admittedly, the Revolutionary War did have its social overtones, as J. Franklin Jameson reminded us half a century ago.3 And, as Jesse Lemisch, Alfred F. Young, and others have pointed out more recently, various underprivileged white groups, including women, had distinctive reactions to the war, each of them viewing it as an opportunity for advancement.4

With all due credit for its pivotal role in the history of human freedom, the American Revolution fell considerably short of the egalitarian goals it proclaimed. Like many subsequent armed outbreaks, it was essentially a colonial war of liberation it was waged, however, against a country not unlike America itself. White Americans claimed that they were fighting for the rights of Englishmen—rights that they had long enjoyed but that the Crown had tried to abrogate they struggled to retain freedom rather than to acquire it.

Although white patriots might not have cared to acknowledge it, the American Revolution bore the overtones of a civil war indeed, it was more a war of independence than one of revolution. Moreover, unlike other colonial wars of liberation, as Moses Coit Tyler pointed out, it was “directed not against tyranny inflicted, but only against tyranny anticipated.𔄧 Its inherent conservatism limited the revolutionary potential of the American War for Independence.

Slaves saw the matter differently. In its impact on them the war was truly revolutionary. Seizing the opportunity, they gave a personal interpretation to the theory of natural rights and to the slogans of liberty and independence. Such a patriotic exhortation as “Give me liberty or give me death” carried special meaning to people in bondage.

The desire of blacks for freedom did not, of course, originate with the American Revolution. In one of his midweek lectures to Boston slaves, delivered on May 21, 1721, Cotton Mather denounced the “Fondness for Freedom in many of you, who lived Comfortably in a very easy Servitude.” Obviously not alluding to religious freedom, Mather had in mind a freedom of the person which, in his opinion, was not the state God had ordained for the assembled bonds people.𔄀 Half a century later, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, this fondness for freedom had become even more prevalent. The number of blacks had multiplied, and they had become more at home in provincial America and more responsive to its ways of life, particularly those tinged with egalitarianism of substance, tone, or spirit.

The special circumstances of Afro-American life sharpened the desire to be free. In sheer numbers blacks composed in 1774 a larger proportion of the total population than they ever would again, 500,000 out of 2,600,000, nearly 20 percent. These half-million blacks had become Afro-Americans in the true sense of the hyphenated word. Reinforced by more recent arrivals from overseas, they retained strong spiritual and aesthetic ties with their ancestral homelands, their rich cultural heritage already working its way into American music, dance, folk literature, and art. Indeed, in reference to Americans from Africa the term acculturation lacks precision it would be better to use trans-culturation, a process of exchange and not a one-way street. Despite the persistence of their African heritage, however, most blacks by 1774 had undergone a transition from Africans to Afro-Americans and were no longer the “outlandish” blacks slave traders had deposited in the New World.

Their Americanization had resulted from a complex of influences, economic, socio-religious, and genetic. They certainly had been integrated economically, as a vital source of labor. Slaves in the southern colonies, numbering 50% of the total slave population, produced the agricultural staples of the late colonial period, tobacco, rice, and sugar. A plantation required skilled laborers as well as field hands, and these too were black. As Marcus W. Jernegan pointed out, “It is hard to see how the eighteenth-century plantation could have survived if the Negro slave had not made his important contribution as an artisan.𔄩 In South Carolina, Peter H. Wood has noted, slaves not only engaged in the full range of plantation activities “but were also thoroughly involved wherever experiments were made with new products,” such as the development of silk culture.8 North Carolina’s blacks likewise performed complex and essential tasks. “If their status often forced them into menial labor,” observed Jeffrey J. Crow, “they still contributed skills and know-how to the colony’s agriculture and crafts.𔄫

The northern provinces also had their component of slaves with industrial skills. Slave workers in New York, as described by Edgar J. McManus, “showed proficiency in every field of human endeavor.” 10 Lorenzo J. Greene, another authority on blacks in the colonial North, painted a similar picture of the slave in New England who might be called upon “not only to care for stock, to act as a servant, repair a fence, serve on board ship, shoe a horse, print a newspaper, but even to manage his master’s business.”

l1 And in New England, as elsewhere, slave women were proficient spinners, knitters, and weavers.

Daily contacts between black worker and white owner inevitably led to a sociocultural interaction between the parties with the slaves becoming familiar with and sometimes adopting the beliefs and behavior patterns of their owners. Such personal contacts were most frequent when a master owned only one or two slaves. The pattern of person-to-person association between the races was less pervasive on the larger plantations, but even there one would find a corps of domestic slaves, whose children, it may be added, tended to play with the children of the master.

In the absence of a slave row with its separate quarters, the slaves in New England and the middle colonies were in close and constant contact with their owners. In the cities above the Potomac, Ira Berlin has argued, the acculturation of blacks “was a matter of years, not generations.” 12 If somewhat slower, the process also went on in the northern countryside. Traveling in rural Connecticut in 1704, Sarah Kemble Knight took note of white masters who permitted what she termed a “too great familiarity” vis-a-vis their slaves, dining at the same table with them. A terse entry in Madame Knight’s diary bespoke her displeasure: “Into the dish goes the black hoof as freely as the white hand.” 13

Out of such white-black proximity, North and South, emerged another force in the Americanization of blacks— their conversion to Christianity. Although many masters considered it imprudent, the idea of bringing slaves to Christ gained momentum throughout the eighteenth century. The movement was led by the London-based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (S.P.G.), an Episcopal organization that operated mainly in the southern colonies. A handful of Puritans and Quakers, more often laboring individually than in organized groups, also took up evangelical work across the color line. In 1740 the conversion of blacks assumed major proportions with the religious revival known as the Great Awakening, with its central theme of equality before God. Negroes entered the churches in unprecedented numbers, imbibing the “New Light” ideas that characterized the crusade. Writing in 1743, Charles , a cleric critical of the Great Awakening, complained that it permitted “women and girls yea Negroes . . . to do the business of preachers.” 14

A significant by-product of this eighteenth-century evangelistic impulse was the emergence of a small but steadily increasing contingent of blacks who could read and write, a case of religion with letters. The S.P.G. established several schools for blacks, one of which, in Goose Creek Parish, South Carolina, employed two black teachers, the first of their race in colonial America.’ The Quakers were especially notable for their efforts to provide education for blacks, their zeal spurred by Anthony Benezet, the leading abolitionist of his day. In 1750 Benezet established in Philadelphia a night school for blacks that was still in operation, and with an enrollment of forty-six, when the Revolutionary War broke out.l6 In New England many slaves received training in the “three R’s,” not only so they could read the Bible but also because literate slaves brought a higher price on the market.

The close relationship between religion and literacy among blacks was reflected in the two best-known poetic publications of the period, one by Jupiter Hammon and the other by Phillis Wheatley. Hammon’s work, a broadside of eighty eight lines, bore the revealing title “An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ, with penitential Cries: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd, of Queen’s Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760.” Far more celebrated than her predecessor, Phillis Wheatley at the age of twenty-three became in 1773 only the second woman in colonial America to publish a volume of poetry. The title of her path-breaking work, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, conveys the basic outlook and orientation of a writer who had in 1771 been baptized in Boston’s Old South Meeting House.

If Hammon and Wheatley personified the religious acculturation of Afro-Americans, the scientist Benjamin Banneker personified another characteristic of white-black proximity, the mixing of bloodlines. Banneker’s white English grandmother had freed and married one of her slaves, Bannaky, a former African chief. As Banneker’s ancestry illustrates, blacks in the thirteen colonies were by no means of exclusively African stock. Early Virginia permitted white-black marriages, but even after all the southern colonies, as well as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, outlawed racial intermixing, miscegenation remained extensive, as evidenced by the large numbers of mulattoes, some of them blue-eyed and red haired. “It is impossible,” Winthrop D. Jordan has argued, “to ascertain how much inter-mixture there actually was, though it seems likely that there was more during the eighteenth century than at any time since.”l7 In addition, Blacks, like whites, also mingled their blood with that of Indians.

As a result of the white-black contacts previously mentioned—economic, socio-religious, and sexual—the half million Afro-Americans of 1774 had begun to experience a sense of distinct identity, a race-conscious identity if you will, but one that reflected the essential values of the Revolutionary era. Watered by the Revolutionary War, this sense of self identity would flower into a collective sense of community,the latter too an affirmation of the most cherished values of the early republic.

The Revolution, with its slogans of liberty and equality, inevitably appealed to a group such as the blacks. If this were the credo of the new America, they would joyfully make the most of it. As a class black Americans were not strong on theory and would hardly have been prepared to discuss the ideological origins of the war. But they could readily understand propositions to the effect that all men were created equal and that everyone was entitled to personal freedom. While short on worldly goods, most blacks did not consider private property, particularly the ownership of slaves, a basic natural right.

Like other Americans, blacks viewed the war in terms of their own interests and concerns. Perceiving what they regarded as an inescapable inconsistency between the ideals of the Revolution and the institution of slavery, they redoubled their efforts for emancipation, their methods including freedom suits, petitions to state legislatures, and military service. In states like Massachusetts that considered them not only property but also persons before the law, slaves instituted suits for freedom. Such actions cast the master in the role of defendant, obliged either to defend the validity of his title or to answer the charge that slavery itself was illegal or unconstitutional.

The effect of a judicial decree extended only to the litigants immediately involved in the case. Hence blacks seeking freedom collectively rather than individually drafted petitions to their state legislatures. Typical of such pleas was that sent in November 1779 to the New Hampshire assembly by nineteen slaves from Portsmouth. Contending that “the God of nature gave them life and freedom,” the petitioners asserted that freedom “is an inherent right of the human specie

, not to be surrendered but by consent.” 18

Slaves in the Revolutionary War South, denied recourse to the courts or the legislatures, expressed their protests more directly. Exhibiting an insubordinate disposition, they became harder to handle. Ronald Hoffman concluded in his study of Revolutionary Maryland that the Eastern Shore centers of black population “were severe sources of strain and worry during the Anglo-American conflict.” 19 By way of example, Hoffman cited a late 1775 dispatch from the Dorchester County Committee of Inspection reporting that “the insolence of the Negroes in this country is come to such a height that we are under a necessity of disarming them. We took about eighty guns, some bayonets, swords, etc.󈭨

Slave discontent was further evidenced in the marked increase of runaways. To escape-minded blacks the war was a godsend the number of fugitive slaves reached flood proportions during the conflict. Thomas Jefferson estimated that during the war more than 30,000 Virginia slaves took to their heels.2l Attesting to their numerical strength, runaway slaves in Revolutionary Georgia established communities of their own.

Blacks’ desire for freedom found its greatest fulfillment in wartime service as arms-bearers. British overtures and American military necessity enabled slaves to join the armed forces and thereby win freedom with their muskets. The invitation to blacks to join the British ranks was first offered in the early months of the war by Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s last royal governor. In June 1779 Commander in Chief Sir Henry Clinton issued the most sweeping of the slave-freeing proclamations by the British command. It promised blacks their freedom and stipulated that they would be given their choice of any occupation within the British lines. Blacks welcomed such overtures, their motivation being more pro-freedom than pro-British.

By 1779 the Americans too were welcoming blacks to their armies. In the early stages of the war American military and civilian authorities had adopted a policy of excluding Negroes, a policy based on the mistaken supposition that the war would be over quickly. By the summer of 1777, with the war dragging into its third year, a policy reversal began when the northern colonies and Maryland decided to enlist blacks whatever the risks.

Slaves needed no second invitation. Recruiting agents had only to mention or hint at that magic word freedom to bring them into the fighting forces. It is striking, for example, that of the 289 identifiable blacks in the Connecticut army, five reported “Liberty” as their surname when they signed on, and eighteen reported “Freedom” or “Freeman.” 22

Free blacks also welcomed the coming of the Revolutionary War. Just as their lot was akin to that of the slaves, so was their response. Like the slaves, the free blacks drafted petitions and joined the army. Prince Hall, for example, did both. Led by the Cuffe brothers, blacks in Massachusetts lodged an official protest against the denial of their right to vote even though they paid taxes. In a 1780 petition to the state legislature they invoked the patriotic slogan “No taxation without representation .23

Free blacks who joined the army were variously motivated. They shared the common hope, however, that the high sounding affirmations of the Revolution were more than hollow rhetoric. With a touch of the wishful thinking not uncommon to those who are reform-minded, black Americans tended to take seriously the proclaimed goals of the patriots.

Hence in assessing the temper and spirit of the Revolutionary War blacks, one finds that, slave and free alike, their loyalty was not to a locality in which they were propertyless, not to an assembly in which they could not sit, and not to a social order that denied their worth. They reserved allegiance for whoever made them the best and most concrete

offer in terms of man’s inalienable rights, which is only to say that the loyalty of black Americans centered on the fundamental credos upon which the new nation was founded.

The hope of black Americans for a new day of equality was not realized it was a dream deferred. True, the Revolutionary War had its positive side. It was imbued with a strong moral overtone, leading some whites to question an institution such as slavery, no matter how time-honored. To whites of a reformist turn of mind the war had exposed the inconsistencies and contradictions in American thought about the rights of man, particularly those of the black man. But if heightened sensitivity to the presence of an underprivileged black group characterized some whites, they were far outnumbered by those who detected no ideological inconsistency. These white Americans, not considering themselves counterrevolutionary, would never have dreamed of repudiating the theory of natural rights. Instead they skirted the dilemma by maintaining that blacks were an outgroup rather than members of the body politic. They subscribed to an equation of equality that excluded nonwhites, regarding them as outside the sociopolitical community encompassed by the Revolutionary War tenets of freedom and equality.

Black Americans, not unexpectedly, gave an entirely different reading to these war-spawned concepts. To them freedom was everyone’s birthright everyone had certain inalienable rights. In black circles the feeling of independence that these beliefs had fostered outlasted the roar of the guns. Still unspent, the spirit of 󈨐 found new outlets among blacks. The Revolutionary War as a black Declaration of Independence took on a power of its own, fueled by residual Revolutionary rhetoric and sustained by the memory of fallen heroes and the cloud of living black witnesses. To black Americans the theory of natural rights did not lose its relevance with the departure of the British troops. Blacks were left no choice other than to oppose all efforts to de-revolutionize the Revolution.

However complacent and self-congratulatory their white countrymen may have been after expelling the British, the less euphoric black Americans turned their thoughts to the unfinished business of democracy. Their sense of self-identity, forged in the colonial period and honed by the Revolutionary War, now gave way to a sense of community, of cooperative effort in a cause that was no less true-blue Americanism simply because its advocates were dark-skinned.

Their problems pressing, their resources meager, black Americans took heed of the Revolutionary War slogan “Unite” or they were brought together not so much by a blood kin a common Old World heritage as by a shared experience particularly during the war, and by a shared pursuit o goals articulated by Jefferson in 1776.

Free blacks assumed the leadership roles as keepers of the flame in 1790 they numbered nearly 60,000. The 700 slaves were hardly in a position to become spokesmen for new freedom, although a growing number of skilled and desperate slaves were more likely to resort to extreme means as they recalled wartime slogans of liberty. As Gerald W. lin pointed out, it was just such a freedom-inspired, little skilled slave, the blacksmith Gabriel Prosser of Richmond who planned one of the most ambitious slave conspiracies United States history. 24 St. George Tucker, a Virginian ar contemporary of Prosser’s, observed that there was a difference between the slaves who responded to Lord Dunmore proclamation in 1775 and those who took part in Gabriel’s I in 1800. The slaves of 1775 fought for freedom as a goal said Tucker, whereas those of 1800 claimed freedom as right.25

The dwindling component of slaves in the post-Revolutionary War North, however, found it unnecessary to resort to overt rebellion time was on their side and gradual emcipation the vogue, especially with the increased availability of white workers. But, like those to the south, northern slaves were not the same after the war. Even the pacifist-mind bondsman Jupiter Hammon was affected. In February 17 he published “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York,” a poignantly worded leaflet. “That liberty is a great

thing,” wrote Hammon, “we may know from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge from the conduct of the white people in the late war. How much money has been spent, and how many lives have been lost to defend their liberty. I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us.󈭮

With northern slaves quiescent in their expectation of emancipation and southern slaves under surveillance, free blacks led the movement for racial unification and solidarity. As might be expected, such leadership fell largely to those living above the Mason-Dixon line. Their counterparts in the South were not entirely stripped of citizenship rights, but their limited opportunity for independent reformist action is suggested by the title of Ira Berlin’s perceptive study of their marginal status, Slaves without Masters.2′

Out of this impulse toward organized independence in the North came the mighty fortress of the independent black church, a church that preached the equality of all human beings before God and had its own interpretation of the Christian theme of the apocalypse. It was a church whose mission of reconciliation was not only between God and man but also between man and his own noblest ideals, a church that envisioned a new earth as logically ancillary to a new heaven. By the end of the century the pattern of racially separate churches had been firmly fixed.

In the South small independent black Baptist churches first appeared during the Revolutionary War years. Many of these churches were offshoots of white congregations which, for a time, exercised a nominal “watch-care” over them. As in the religious services held by slaves, a characteristic feature of these black churches was the singing of spirituals. If these Negro spirituals had their escapist, otherworldly overtones, they also abounded in code words and double meanings, many of them striking a note of social protest and carrying a barely

concealed freedom ring. It was during the late eighteenth century that blacks began to sing one of the greatest of these spirituals with a hidden or double meaning:

In the North, Richard Allen, a former slave who had purchased his freedom, led the movement for the independent black church. In 1786 Allen attempted to establish a separate congregation of Negro Methodists in Philadelphia. Rebuffed n this effort by an official of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Allen withdrew his membership a year later when, at a Sunday morning worship service, a white trustee ordered him and two other black communicants to hie themselves to the gallery. They would never return to St. George’s.

By then Allen who, in the words of biographer Carol V. R. Jeorge, had “imbibed the philosophical preferences of Revolutionary America” had come to the conclusion that an independent black church and a gospel of social deliverance would be mutually supportive.3″ Deeply religious, he would ever lose sight of “that city called Heaven.” But to him, to is co-workers who founded Bethel Church in 1794, and to succeeding generations of black churchgoers, the theology to which they subscribed was a theology of liberation in which Jod spoke out in thunder tones against chattel slavery and sharply condemned other forms of injustice inflicted upon many of His children. Thus the black church was not only a spiritual fellowship it was also a social unit, and for this reason represented a fusion of redemption, religious and racial.

In whatever sphere it operated, however, a given church tended to confine its immediate services to members of its own congregation, its own denomination. Hence the movement toward black independence also led to the establishment of organizations that cut across denominational ties, even while retaining a broadly Christian orientation. During the early years of the republic a number of societies and organizations emerged to promote black solidarity, self-help, and self-improvement. Blacks certainly played their part in making post-Revolutionary War America a nation of joiners.

The earliest of these black secular organizations was the African Union Society of Newport, Rhode Island, founded in November 1780 it was followed seven years later by the Free African Society of Philadelphia. The 1790S witnessed the birth of the Brown Fellowship Society, located in Charleston (l790), 3l the African Society of Providence, Rhode Island (1793), the African Society of Boston (1796), and the Friendly Society of St. Thomas, in Philadelphia (1797). 32 A sense of racial identity and pride accounts for the frequent use of the word African in the naming of these groups.

As might be expected, the major emphases of these organizations were mutual aid programs, such as supporting one another in sickness and in want, and requirements that their members lead upright lives, minding their morals and their manners. If these goals appeared to be limited exclusively to the welfare of their own participants, however, such was not their overall design. The societies were bent on demonstrating that blacks as a class were, if given the opportunity, prepared to assume the full responsibilities of freedom and citizenship, thus disputing the argument that blacks had never amounted to anything except as slaves, and never would. In a 1794 public letter Richard Allen, founder (with slave born Absalom Jones) of the Free African Society, urged his fellow blacks to fulfill “the obligations we lie under to help forward the cause of freedom.” A special obligation, Allen insisted, fell upon those who themselves had tasted the cup “of which the slave has to drink.󈭵

The wider concerns of these early societies are revealed by their interest in Africa, particularly in establishing a black Christian presence among their brethren abroad. This missionary impulse to uplift the Africans and at the same time strike an indirect blow against slavery, was particularly strong the Rhode Island societies. In Newport the movement was driven by Newport Gardner, in Providence by Bristol Yamma, other literate former slaves born in Africa.34 The efforts of these eighteenth-century black emigrationists were unsuccessful, but later blacks would echo their call, although with additional reasons, including disillusionment with the Ameran dream.

In company with church and secular groups, the roster of lte eighteenth-century Afro-American organizations included the first black secret fraternal order in this country, le Masons. If black Masonry can be said to have had a single Founder, it was Prince Hall of Boston, a Revolutionary War veteran and, to use a present-day term, a civil rights activist. Determined to establish a black Masonic lodge and rebuffed by white Masonic authorities in America, he succeeded after ten-year struggle in obtaining a charter from the British ,Grand Lodge. On May 6, 1787, African Lodge No. 459 (its charter number) was formally organized with Prince Hall as Master. Ten years later Hall, now bearing the title of Grand Master, established lodges in Providence and Philadelphia, in the latter instance installing Absalom Jones as Worshipful Master. 35

In common with other black self-help and self-improvement organizations, the Masons placed great emphasis on formal education, especially reading and writing. If blacks of the colonial period deemed such education a privilege, blacks of the Revolutionary War era thought of it as an American

entitlement, if not an inherent right of man. “Let us lay by our recreations, and all superfluities, so that we may . . . educate our rising generation,” Prince Hall urged in an address to the African Lodge on June 25, 1792. And in the same breath Hall berated the selectmen of Boston for taxing blacks while not permitting them to attend the public schools.36

In Philadelphia, Absalom Jones established a school for blacks in 1799. “It is with pleasure that I now inform you that the school was opened on the 4th day of March,” Jones wrote to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, expressing “unfeigned thanks for the encouragement you were pleas[ed] to give me.󈭹 As a result of the sacrificial efforts of such black leaders as Hall and Jones and the extensive educational operations of white-membered abolitionist societies, the pursuit of formal education became a mainspring in black life during the formative years of the new nation.

Blacks of the Revolutionary War era could work independently, as in their churches, or cooperatively with whites, as in providing schools. But neither by independent nor cooperative action could they make any headway in winning suffrage, a right so vital to the “created equal” concept in the Declaration of Independence. In the New England colonies during the colonial period, slaves had been permitted to establish mock Negro governments, electing their own “governors.” Primarily a form of diversion, these slave “elections” were occasions for feasting and merriment, but as Lorenzo Greene has argued, the “governments” they set up “acted as a sort of political school wherein slaves received the rudiments of political education which could be drawn upon once they were enfranchised.󈭺

Five of the thirteen states forming the new nation—New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and North Carolina—did not exclude blacks from voting. Indeed, in one of these states, Maryland, a black candidate ran for public office in 1792, very likely the first of his color ever to take this bold step. Thomas Brown, a horse doctor, sought one of the two seats allotted to Baltimore in the House of Delegates. In a September 24, 1792, public letter addressed “To the virtuous, free and independent electors of Baltimore-Town,” Brown asserted that he had “been a zealous patriot in the cause of liberty during the late struggle for freedom and independence, not fearing prison or death for my country’s cause.” Brown closed his somewhat lengthy letter with a pledge that “the corpulency of my body shall be no clog to the exercise of my genius, and agility of my limbs, which shall be kept in perpetual motion for the good of the state.𔄥l His vote so minuscule as not to have been recorded, Brown was defeated in his bid for office, a circumstance reflecting the times. In but a few scattered instances were blacks a political factor during the eighteenth century, and black enfranchisement in post-Revolutionary America was generally short-lived. In fact after 1810 Thomas Brown himself could not even have voted, Maryland having barred blacks from the polls as of that year. Politically minded blacks could hope for little when property less whites were subject to disfranchisement. 3l”

Postwar blacks resorted to another form of political participation, the right to petition for redress of grievances. On December 30, 1799, as the Revolutionary War era was drawing to a close, a group of seventy-four blacks from the Philadelphia area addressed a petition “To the President, Senate, and House of Representatives,” requesting abolition of the overseas slave trade and modification of the fugitive slave law so as to prevent the kidnapping of free blacks. The document concluded with a plea that blacks might “be admitted to partake of the liberties and unalienable rights” to which they were entitled.41 Although invoking the language and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the appeal was couched in the most respectful and conciliatory of tones, and it issued from a city in which the Liberty Bell once had rung, heralding the birth of the new nation. But the House of Representatives did not prove to be liberation-minded the Congressmen rejected the petition by a chilling vote of eighty-five to one.42

This rejection of Revolutionary principles, like others, did not deter blacks from pressing for the Revolution’s goals of freedom and equality. Determined and patient, they would hardly have heeded. J. R. Pole’s observations that “revolutions by the nature of the historical process are always incomplete” and that a revolution tends to raise hopes that it cannot satisfy.” 43 Blacks of the Revolutionary War era would have been more receptive to the contention of jurist Benjamin N. Cardozo that a principle has a tendency “to expand itself to the limit of its logic.󈮀 For them the war and the freedom concepts it sprouted bore their own seeds of regeneration.

In time, the Revolutionary War can be termed a black Declaration of Independence in the sense it spurred black Americans to seek freedom and equality. The Afro-Americans of that era stood wholeheartedly among those who viewed the war as an ongoing revolution in freedom’s cause. To a degree approaching unanimity, they clothed the War for Independence with a meaning and a significance transcending their own day and time and not confined to the shores of the new republic. To them the full worth of the American Revolution lay ahead.


George S. Brookes, Friend Anthony Benezet (Philadelphia, 1937)

Daniel K. Richter, “‘It Is God Who Has Caused Them To Be Servants’: Cotton Mather and Afro-American Slavery in New England,” Bulletin of the Congregational Library 15 (1979):3-13.

Laboring and Dependent Classes in Colonial America, 1607-1783 (Chicago)

The Black Expenence in Revolutionary North Carolina (Raleigh, N.C., 1977)

A History of Negro Slavery in New York (Syracuse, N.Y., 1966)

The Negro in Colonial New England (New York, 1942).

Frank J. Klingberg, An Appraisal of the Negro in Colonial
South Carolina (Washington, D.C., 1941).

Flight and Rebellion. Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (New York, 1972)

Slaves Without Masters. The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (New York) 1974

Miles Mark Fisher, Negro Slave Songs in the United States (Ithaca, N.Y., 1953)

Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Rise of Independent Black Churches, 1760-840 (New York, 1973)

E. Horace Fitchett, “The Traditions of the Free Negro in Charleston, South Carolina,” Journal of Negro History 25 (1940):144.

Floyd J. Miller, The Search for a Black Nationality: Black Emigration and Colonization, 1787-7863 (Urbana, IL, 1975)

Dorothy Porter, ed ., Early Negro Writing, 1760-1837 (Boston, 1971 )

Lawrence W. Towner, “‘A Fondness for Freedom’: Servant Protest in Puritan Society,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser. 19 (1962)

Oscar Wegelin, Jupiter Hammon, A Negro Poet: Selections from His Writings and a Bibliography (Miami, Fla., 1969)

Charles H. Wesley, Prince Hall: Life and Legacy (Washington, D.C., 1977)

Charles H. Wesley, Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom (Washington, D.C., 1935).

David O. White, Connecticut’s Black Soldiers, 1775-1783 (Chester, Conn.)

  1. Charles Brewster, Rambles about Portsmouth: Sketches of Persons, Localities, and Incidents of Two (centuries: Principal from Tradition and Unpublished Sources (Portsmouth, N.H., 1859), p. 153.

Review 85 (1980):44-78, and idem, “The Revolution in Black Life,” in Alfred F. Young, ed., The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism (DeKalb, 111., 1976), pp. 351-82.

2. On this point see Ira Berlin, “Time, Space, and the Evolution of Afro-American Society in British Mainland North America,” American Historical Review 85 (1980) :44-78, and idem, “The Revolution in Black Life,” in Alfred F. Young, ed., The American Revolution: Expo

3. The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement (Princeton, 1926).

4. Jesse Lemisch, “The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up,” in Barton J. Bernstein, ed., Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History (New York, 1968), pp. 3—29 Young, American Revolution.

5. The Literary History of the American Revolution, 1763-1783, 2 vols. (1897 reprinted.,New York, 1957), 1:8.

6. Tremenda: The Dreadful Sound with Which the Wicked Are to Be Thunderstruck . . . (Boston, 1721), quoted in Lawrence W. Towner, “‘A Fondness for Freedom’: Servant Protest in Puritan Society,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser. I9 (1962):201. For a penetrating analysis of Mather’s views on slavery, see Daniel K. Richter, “‘It Is God Who Has Caused Them To Be Servants’: Cotton Mather and Afro-American Slavery in New England,” Bulletin of the Congregational Library 15 (1979):3-13.

7. Laboring and Dependent Classes in Colonial America, 1607-1783 (Chicago, ), p. 23.

Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York, 1974), p. I99.

9. The Black Experience in Revolutionary North Carolina (Raleigh, N.C., 1977), p. 12.

10. A History of Negro Slavery in New York (Syracuse, N.Y., 1966), p. 47.

11. The Negro in Colonial New England( New York, 1942),p. 101.

12. “Time, Space, and the Evolution of Afro-American Society,” p. 49.

13. The Private Journal of Sarah Kemble Knight: Being the Record of a Journey from Boston to New York in the Year 1704 (1825 reprint ed., Norwich, Conn., p.

14. Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England (Boston, 1743), quoted in Eldon J. Eisenbach, “Cultural Politics and Political Thought: The American Revolution Made and Remembered,” American Studies 20 ( I 979):74

15. Frank J. Klingberg, An Appraisal of the Negro in Colonial South Carolina (Washington, D.C., 1941), pp. I l l and 1 14—15.

16. George S. Brookes, Friend Anthony Benezet (Philadelphia, 1937), p. 45.

17. Petition reproduced in Isaac W. Hammond, “Slavery in New Hampshire in Olden Time,” Granite Monthly 4 ( 1880): l o8—10.

19. “The ‘Disaffected’ in the Revolutionary South,” in Young, American Revolution, p. 281.

Y”A Spirit of Dissension. Economics, Politics, and the Revolution in Maryland (Baltimore, 1973), p. 148.

2I. John Chester Miller, The Wol

22. David 0. White, Connecticut’s Black Soldiers, 1775-1783 (Chester, Conn., ), pp. 54-64.

23. Petition reproduced in Roger Bruns, ed., Am I Not a Man and a Brother: The Antislavery Crusade of Revolutionary America, 1688-1788 (New York, 197),PP 454-56.

24. Flight and Rebellion. Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (N York, 1972), pp. 140-63.

25. Ibid., p. 157.

26. Oscar Wegelin, Jupiter Hammon, A Negro Poet: Selections from His Writings and a Bibliography (Miami, Fla., 1969), p. 27.

27. Slaves without Masters. The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (New York, 974)

28. Miles Mark Fisher, Negro Slave Songs in the United States (Ithaca, N.Y., 953), p. 40.

29. Charles H. Wesley, Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom (Washington, D.C., 935), pp. 52-53.

30. “Segregated Sahbaths: Richald Auen and the Rise of Independent Black (.hvrche

’E. Horace Fitchett, “The Traditions of the Free Negro in Charleston, South Carolina,”Journal of Negro History 25 (1940):144.

32. Floyd J. Miller, The Search for a Black Nationality: Black Emigration and Colonization, 1787-7863 (Urbana. 111., 1975), pp. 8, 16, and 34.

33. Dorothy Porter, ed., Negro Protest Pamphlets (New York, 1969), p. 23.

34. Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, pp. 7-9, and 1 5-20.

35. Charles H. Wesley,Prince Hall: Life and Legacy (Washington, D.C., 1977) , p. 124 and 142. For a facsimile of the charter from the British Grand Lodge, see p. 49. 36 “A Charge Delivered to the Brethren of the African Lodge . . .,” in Dorothy Porter, ed ., ka7-1y Negro Writing, 1 760- 1 83 7 (Boston, 1 97 1 ), p 67 .

37. Jones to Pennsylvania Abolition Society, Mar. 11, 1799, Papers of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race, Pennsylvania Historical Society, Philadelphia.

38. Creene, Negro in Colonial New England, p. 255.

39. Baltimore Daily Repository, Sept. 26, 1 792.

40. Indeed, down to the Civil War era blacks wielded little power as voters except for a twenty-year span, 1800-1820, when the Federalist party wooed their vote. See Dixon Ryan Fox, “The Negro Vote in Old New York” Political Science Quarte11y 32 (1917):252-75. No black would hold elective office until 18

4, when the voters of Oberlin, Ohio, chose John Mercer Langston as township clerk.40’Petition in Porter, Early Negro Writing, pp. 330—32.

42. U.S., Congress, House, Congressional Record, 6th Cong., Jan. 3, 1800, 244-45

43. The Pursuit of Equality in American History (Berkeley, Calif., 1978), p. 325

44. The Nature of the Judicial Process (New Haven, 1932), p. 51, quoted in A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process (New York, 1978), pp. 383—84.

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