The Role of African Americans in the Revolution

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m doing some research on the colony/state of Rhode Island. This little state was stubbornly independent in the late 18th century, and I’m thinking of using it as the setting for a new novel I am working on.  It matches my heroine’s personality perfectly!

In Recalcitrant Rhode Island, I mentioned that the state was the last to sign the Constitution and only agreed to do so after a stipulation was made allowing her to secede if things didn’t work out – meaning, of course, if the federal government started resembling a monarchy.

However, that is evidently not the first time Rhode Island took a different approach. In Two Looks at Rhode Island’s Continental Soldiers, the Boston 1775 blog calls attention to an upcoming event that might be helpful for anyone who wants to learn more about the role of African Americans in the American Revolution.
An eyewitness sketch of soldiers of the Continental Army by a
French Army officer who participated in the Yorktown
Campaign in 1781. (Left to right) A black private of the
Rhode Island Regiment, a white private of an unidentified
infantry regiment, a  rifleman, and an artilleryman.

source: Wikimedia Commons
This image is in the publiuc domain in the US because
its copyright has expired.
Rhode Island’s Black Patriots in the Revolutionary War. – This is a lecture being given by the Museum of African American History on Aug 29th in Nantucket. It’s free and open to the public. You can get more details here. Unfortunately, I am halfway across the country from Nantucket, so I won’t make that one, but I dearly wish I could be there to hear some of the life stories of these soldiers.

Rhode Island’s active recruiting of black soldiers was somewhat unusual, at least for the Patriots. The British actively recruited slaves, promising them their freedom if the British won. But in 1775, George Washington banned the recruitment of blacks into the Continental Army, relinquishing out of necessity in 1778 and allowing Rhode Island to fill her ranks at a time when new recruits were badly needed.

Why did George Washington not allow African Americans to enlist? As much as I revere our founding fathers, they were human. As far as I can tell, George Washington feared arming them whether they were free men or not. He was after all, a slave owner himself, and although he wrote the emancipation of his slaves into his will, the provision wasn’t supposed to take effect until after Martha Washington died. Martha, to her credit, freed some of his slaves just months after his passing.

Leave it to the ladies to do the right thing, eh?*


*Yes, I know she could have freed all of them and didn’t.

Giving credit where credit is due

In addition to the Boston 1775 blog already mentioned, there are a number of valuable sites you can refer to if you want more information. I used many of these while fact checking this post.
Africans in America – The Revolutionary War
African American Soldiers and the Revolutionary War
George Washington and slavery
Museum of African American History

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