Skip to comments.Local author takes a closer look at war in The Black Regiment [RevWar]
Posted on 02/04/2006 1:18:58 PM PST by Pharmboy
COVENTRY - Since 1926, February has been celebrated as Black History month. It is a time to commemorate the history of blacks in the United States dating as far back as colonial times, although it was not until the 20th century that people began to delve deeper into the implications of how black history shaped the future of America today.
This summer, Coventry librarian and children's author Linda Crotta Brennan published The Black Regiment of the American Revolution, a book for children grades 4 through 8, which outlines the history of the African American patriots who fought in the Revolutionary War.
The book was chosen as the featured title for Rhode Island at the National Book Festival this year.
After the harsh winter of 1777, the officers from Rhode Island found themselves in a bind; their soldiers had spent the long winter camped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and many of the soldier's enlistments were coming to an end.
With limited manpower and British occupation in Newport, the state's largest city at that time, it was pertinent Rhode Island secure more troops to remain on the home front.
By law, each state was required to send a certain number of regiments to fight in General George Washington's Continental Army due to the absence of a forced draft; if they failed to produce soldiers, the states would be fined.
At this time, America housed two major slave imports; one running out of Charleston, North Carolina and one out of Newport.
With Rhode Island containing more slaves than any other state in New England, generals began considering supplementing the army's lack of soldiers by enlisting black slaves, offering them freedom in exchange for their service.
The plan for the Black Regiment was placed before the Rhode Island legislature, and on Feb. 23, 1778, the historic act passed and a new First Rhode Island Regiment was created.
The act stated that, "every able-bodied Negro, mulatto, or Indian man-slave" could enlist and would receive their freedom after completing their stay on the battlefront.
Although this was not the first time slaves had fought with whites in American wars, it was the first time that slaves were to receive equal pay and privileges as white soldiers. With the chance to earn their freedom from cruel slave masters and inhumane working conditions, slaves flocked from across Rhode Island and neighboring states to join the Black Regiment.
In some cases, slave owners were paid to enlist their slaves or slaves would take their owner's place in the regiment. Other times, slaves simply ran from their owners and came to fight, not only for their country's freedom, but also for their own.
Of the 300,000 men who fought for American independence during the Revolutionary War, 5,000 were black.
The Black Regiment was considered to contain many of the Continental Army's greatest soldiers.
The Battle of Rhode Island in Newport in Aug. 1778, a pivotal battle in the war, saw an American victory because of the Black Regiment's continued efforts to fight off the veteran Hessian troops (German soldiers hired by the British) in three separate attacks.
After the battle, one white soldier gave his account of the fighting: "Three times in succession, were [the men of the Black Regiment] attacked, with most desperate valor and fury, by well disciplined and veteran troops, and three times did they successfully repel the assault, and thus preserve our army from capture."
Black soldiers began winning the respect of their white counterparts and also praise for their bravery in battle. Many white soldiers could not fathom how these men stood side by side with them on the battlefield, risked their lives for the same goal, and yet were still considered another man's property.
Fighting ensued until the British surrender in 1781 at the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia.
On June 13, 1783, when the Black Regiment was discharged, many of the black patriots did not receive the compensation they had been promised.
Most were told to return to their homes without a dime in their pockets.
A year after the war's conclusion, Rhode Island began paving the way to end slavery by passing legislation stating all children born to slaves would be free citizens.
Still, the process of emancipation was not a brief one.
Slaves born before the March 1 deadline could be kept in slavery while children born to slave mothers after that date would stay with them through childhood.
Only when male children turned 21 and female children turned 18, would they be considered free citizens.
Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire followed Rhode Island's lead, adopting anti-slavery statements into their constitutions as well.
The last slave in Rhode Island died in 1859; he was 100 years old.
Regardless of this law, it would still take until Jan. 1, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring, "all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State...shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."
Learning something new bump.
Happens to me all the time on FR, friend...
They seem to position it here that the blacks were the only ones sent home with nothing--it is my understanding that essentially everyone was sent home with essentially nothing because they had nothing to give them. Land grants were eventually awarded, and became responsible for settling parts of Ohio and especially Indiana. Courts were set up to examine individual soldiers (or soldier's families) claims for compensation. I have never seen anything that pointed to black RevWar veterans treated worse than whites in this regard, but it could have been.
The Black Regiment
by Linda Crotta Brennan
illus by Cheryl Kirk Noll
Thanks! That's the kind of African American history that I love to read...no victimology, just gettin' 'er done!
Accordingly, the issue of bounty lands has far wider geographical implications than the area encompassed by the nine state governments which instituted the practice. Besides the original states of Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia, the future states of Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, and Tennessee were directly affected by the bounty land system. While the administrative records were, with one exception, the purview of the former nine, the bounty land reserves involved the five transappalachian states. The states of Georgia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina either had no claims to transappalachian territory or relinquished their claims to the national government. Accordingly, their reserves for bounty lands lay within their own western borders. In the cases of Georgia and New York, these reserves were to be situated on the definition of their western borders as they existed in 1783. The bounty land reserves in those two states today would be described as being centrally located. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts allotted its bounty lands in the then District of Maine, which in 1820 achieved statehood status.
While most of the states awarded bounty lands for military service, there were two exceptions. Connecticut compensated its citizenry with lands in Ohio if their homes, outbuildings, and businesses were destroyed by the British. The Nutmeg State seemingly awarded no bounty land for military service per se. Georgia also issued lands to its civilian population who had remained loyal, or at the very least neutral, to the Revolutionary cause after the British restored royal control. There were no Revolutionary War bounty land grants within the current borders of the southern states of North Carolina and Virginia. The former issued its bounty lands in its western lands which became Tennessee. The latter selected reserves for its bounty lands in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio before ceding its claims to the federal government.
It is important to emphasize that the Continental Congress also made use of the policy of bounty lands. The index to those claims appears in the Index to Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives (Washington, D.C.: National Genealogical Society, 1976). The federal bounty land records are included in the National Archives micropublication, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900, Series M804, 2,670 rolls. Abstracts of these files appear in the four-volume work of Virgil D. White, Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (Waynesboro, Tenn.: The National Historical Publishing Company, 1990-1992). The federal government likewise selected a reserve in the Northwest Territory where bounty land warrants could be used to locate land. The U.S. Military Tract in Ohio encompassed portions or all of the counties of Coshochton, Delaware, Franklin, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Marion, Morrow, Muskingum, Noble, and Tuscarawas. These records appear in the micropublications U.S. Revolutionary War Bounty-Land Warrants Used in the U.S. Military District of Ohio and Related Papers (Acts of 1788, 1803, 1806), Series M829, 16 rolls, and in Register of Army Land Warrants Issued under the Act of 1788 for Service in the Revolutionary War: Military District of Ohio, Series T1008, 1 roll. Since the federal land grants are readily accessible via these sources, they are not included in this work.
With the exception of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the other states permitted qualified veterans and/or their dependents to receive bounty lands from both the federal and the respective state governments. Accordingly, there may be relevant bounty land files for soldiers in the Continental Line at both the federal and state levels. While New York made some adjustments, double dipping was the norm in the other states.
There were also Africans in the British and French armies.
And even more obscure . . .
Well, as I mentioned in another post above, they sent just about everyone home with nothing because the government was broke, and their paper money, well, wasn't worth a Continental.
One of the saddest tales from the RevWar (in addition to the prison ships in NY Harbor) were the thousands of Africans who died in British camps of typhus and smallpox when they were told to leave for freedom.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.