Who are “The Black Patriots”?

History Recalls the Importance of The Black Patriots

The Black Patriots of The American Revolution

Who exactly are “The Black Patriots” of America?  Get to know the crucial thousands, who played a critical role in the American Revolutionary War…

By Definition…

Whenever we celebrate our nation’s birthday, let us remember all the men and women who made this nation possible.  Included in those remembered are at least 5,000 Black Men, who made a huge gamble and supported the Revolutionary Cause by fighting in the Continental Army.  History records the name, Black Patriot, was used for all African Americans who sided with the colonists in opposing the British.  The term, Black Patriot, refers to, but is not limited to, the 5,000 or more African Americans who fought in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
Forgotten Forefathers of America – Maryland Historical Trust image
The British offered freedom (and sometimes also the promise of land) to any enslaved person, who joined their ranks, while the Americans made no such offer.  About 20,000 black men went to fight for the British as Black Loyalists due to the promise of freedom.

But, despite the offer of freedom and land, thousands of black men chose to side with America.  Those black men, who chose to serve the American Cause, did so on the hope of a better future. They knew what the British System had to offer, but they placed their lives on the line with America…and become known to history as “The Black Patriots”.

How They Began

In January 1778, General Washington had given his approval for Rhode Island’s plan to raise an entire regiment of black citizens. Over the next five years, 250 former slave and freedmen served in the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. (See The Founding Project article, link below.)  They would be just one part of the approximately 5,000 black men who served the American effort.

Portrait of a black Revolutionary War sailor.” circa 1780. Artist unknown. Image credit: Newport Historical Society

Many black men served in the Continental Army in every enlisted position from infantryman to cook.  Black sailors used their considerable experience at sea in the Continental Navy as able seamen and pilots. There were Black soldiers present at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, Saratoga, and virtually every other battle of the Revolutionary War.  Individuals such as Peter Salem Poor (See The Founding Project article, link below.) and Crispus Attucks (Recorded as the “first martyr of the American Revolutionary War.) were commended for gallantry or died in defense of the Patriot cause.  Samuel Middleton, was the only black commissioned officer in the Continental Army. Additionally, there were many others, including those who served as spies, field chaplains and medics, assistants to officers and many other roles. (See TFP article on James Armistead and Prince Hall, links below.)

Too Numerous to Name, Well-Remembered by History

At the onset of the War for Independence approximately 500,000 African Americans lived in the colonies, of whom some 400,000 were enslaved. Blacks fought in provincial regiments prior to the war, and roughly 5,000 African American soldiers and sailors, both free and slave, served the Revolutionary cause. The presence of black Continental troops was noted, often favorably, by foreign observers.
“Black Patriots of the American Revolution” – www.history.com image
In December 1777, a German officer wrote of the American Revolutionary forces:
“The Negro can take the field in his master’s place; hence you never see a regiment in which there are not a lot of Negroes, and there are well-built, strong, husky fellows among them.”

Service of African American soldiers alongside their white counterparts is strikingly illustrated in an August 24, 1778 “Return of the Negroes in the Army” notice, which listed 755 black soldiers in fifteen brigades of Gen. George Washington’s main army at White Plains, New York.  Black soldiers were listed in regiments in other states, as well.

“They Were Good Soldiers.”

African-American soldiers in the War for Independence – American Philatelic Society image

At the war’s beginning, General Washington had been opposed to slaves and indentured servants serving in the then fledgling American army.   But, he soon recognized the need for extra manpower and the willingness of slaves and indentured servants to serve, and relented.  Black men, both free and slave, answered the call by the thousands. By the end of the war, his practical view was set in stone.

Former private Henry Hallowell, of Col. Rufus Putnam’s 5th Massachusetts Regiment, gave this simple but fitting tribute to the African American soldiers, free and slave, who served the Revolutionary cause in a number of roles:

“In my … company there were Negros’s  part of them called on me after their time was out. They were good soldiers.”

References and Recommended Reading:
John U. Rees ‘They Were Good Soldiers’: African–Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775-1783 (From Reason to Revolution).
Black Soldiers in the Revolutionary War
By Elizabeth M. Collins, Soldiers March 4, 2013/ U.S. Army Public Affairs Office
Smithsonian Institution. The American Revolution: A Visual History. New York: DK Publishing, 2016.

“Standing In Their Own Light” African American Patriots and the American Revolution by Judith L. Van Buskirk

Image from book by Judith L. Van Buskirk
The historic 1st Rhode Island Regiment: https://thefoundingproject.com/1st-regiment-rhode-island/
Peter Crowell Anderson
About Peter Crowell Anderson 10 Articles
Peter Crowell Anderson joins The Founding Project as a Historian and Writer. Peter holds a Bachelor of Science in Historical Studies & Fine Arts from Boston University | Boston, MA Class of 1983 Anderson is employed as the Business Development Director of M1 Data and Analytics handling the Political Communications Division. In addition, Anderson is involved with these additional organizations: Member, American Conservatives of Color Member, Black Republicans Member Florida Republican Executive Committee for Broward County

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