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date: 09 April 2020

Salem, Peter locked

1750–1816 Revolutionary War soldier who played a decisive role in the Battle of Bunker Hill.


Freed from slavery by his owner in order to fight in the Continental Army, Peter Salem was one of about 500 African Americans who served in the Revolutionary War. Along with Salem Poor, Peter Salem fought bravely in early pivotal battles in Massachusetts, including Concord in April 1775 and Bunker (Breed's) Hill in June 1775. Some contemporary eyewitnesses credited Salem with firing the decisive shot that killed British Major John Pitcairn at Bunker Hill. Artist John Trumbull is said to have depicted Salem in his 1786 painting “The Battle of Bunker's Hill,” which shows a black soldier holding a musket. Serving bravely until the end of the war, Salem died in poverty in his hometown of Framingham, Massachusetts, after a career as a cane weaver. In 1882, a monument was erected to his memory in Framingham.

See also American Revolution.

A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.

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