Blacks in the Revolutionary War
After the end of this section, you will be able to:
- talk about the role of slaves in the Revolutionary War.
The American colonies were a source of great wealth for Great Britain. To capture this wealth, the government had to exercise control over both colonial trade and colonial government.
Great Britain tried to control its American colonies in two ways. First, it passed laws to restrict colonial trade. Second, Great Britain sent its own officials to govern the colonies and force its laws on colonial legislatures. Both factors were important in the colonist’s final decision to break away from Great Britain.
[To improve your knowledge about the American Revolution see The Navigation Acts (from 1651 to 1733); Greenville’s Colonial Policies (1761-63); Taxation without representation (1764); The Quartering Act (1765); The Stamp Act (1765); The Townshend Acts (1767); The Boston Massacre (1770); Tea Act and Tea Party (1773); The Intolerable Acts (1774); The Quebec Act (1774); First Continental Congress (1774); Second Continental Congress (1775)].
The [E1] [E2] [F] [Es] [I] Declaration of Independence (1776), which declared that the 13 British colonies considered themselves free of British rule, did not guarantee independence for a United States. A war had to be won first. In order to do this, the Second Continental Congress had to overcome many problems. It had to organise an army and navy. Officials had to be sent to foreign countries to ask for aid. Congress had to find the money to finance the war. One problem Congress faced was recruiting enough Americans to fight the British. The first American soldiers were militia. Usually, members of the militia served for six months or fought only in battles near to their homes. Most men did not want to leave their families for long periods of time.
The Congress began organising an army in 1775 (each state was asked to recruit men to form its own unit of the Continental Army), but, like the militia, the army had trouble getting soldiers to serve for long periods of time.
Blacks were members of the militia that took part in the first battles of the [E1] [E2] [E3] [I] Revolutionary War. Among them was Salem Poor, praised by his commanding officers for his courage at Bunker Hill (1775). However, when Congress organised the Continental Army, it kept blacks out. Colonial leaders did not want the army to become a place for runaway slaves. But the main reason for not enlisting blacks was fear. Some colonists fear that armed slaves would turn on their owners.
Free blacks were angry at being kept out of the army. Late in 1775, they protested the General Washington. He placed the matter before Congress. It finally agreed to allow free blacks who had fought in the early battles to enlist. As the war dragged on, the Continental army began recruiting blacks, both slave and free. There were blacks in units from most states, and blacks also served at sea. In all, 5,000 blacks served on the side of the Americans.
Some blacks also served in the British army. Lord Dunmore, the British governor of Virginia, offered freedom to black slaves who joined the British. One reason Americans began recruiting black soldiers was in answer to this threat. Some black soldiers received their freedom for serving with the Americans.
Practicing your skills
Debating Would you have supported the Declaration of Independence if you had been a slave in Virginia?