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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Revolutionary War soldier, was born in Black Horse (now Columbus) in Burlington County, New Jersey. Nothing is known of his family except that, of light complexion and likely of mixed descent, Cromwell was never a slave. He was reared by John Hutchins, a farmer. Cromwell himself worked the land until he joined the Continental army in late 1776 at the age of twenty-three, serving in the Second New Jersey Regiment, under the command of Colonel Israel Shreve.

The service of Oliver Cromwell in the American Revolution as a free black from New Jersey is well worth noting. Although black men, both free and slave, such as Prince Whipple and London Dailey served in relatively high numbers in New England regiments such was not the case for regiments raised in the middle and southern colonies In New Jersey blacks were generally forbidden to serve and in one location Shrewsbury ...

Article

Rayford W. Logan

Born in Columbus, in Burlington County, New Jersey, Oliver Cromwell is reported to have been born free. He worked as a farmer and enlisted in a company attached to the Second New Jersey Regiment under the command of Colonel Israel Shreve. According to Cromwell's reminiscences when he was by his account one hundred years old, he accompanied General George Washington when he crossed the Delaware in 1776, and fought in the battles of Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth, and Yorktown. There, he recalled, he saw the last man killed. Regardless of the dependability of his detailed recollections, his honorable discharge as a private in a battalion of the Second New Jersey Regiment was signed by General George Washington at his headquarters on June 5, 1783 An endorsement stated that he was honored with the Badge of Merit for Six Years faithful service He also received a federal pension ...

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Penny Anne Welbourne

Oliver Cromwell was born a free African American in Burlington County, New Jersey, in the town that later became Columbus. He lived with the family of John Hutchin, a farmer, and was expected to become a farmer as well. Little else is known about Cromwell's life before he was twenty, the age at which he enlisted in a company attached to the Second New Jersey Regiment, led by Colonel Israel Shreve. In 1772 free African Americans were permitted to fight in the American Revolutionary War, a practice later reinforced by the passage of the Militia Act of New Jersey in 1777.

Ironically, Cromwell served for six years and nine months under the immediate command of George Washington, who was initially opposed to African Americans' enlisting in the Continental army. Along with another African American, Prince Whipple, on Christmas Eve 1776 Cromwell crossed the Delaware River ...

Article

Alton Hornsby

Reported to be the son of a Virginia white woman and a black father, Austin Dabney was probably born in North Carolina. Shortly after the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, a man named Richard Aycock brought Austin from North Carolina to Wilkes County, Georgia. It was assumed that Austin was a slave. However, when Aycock was ushered into the Georgia militia, Aycock asked that the young mulatto (of African and European descent) be permitted to take his place. The law forbade slaves to bear arms for any reason, but Aycock swore that the boy was indeed a free person of color. Austin was placed under the command of Colonel Elijah Clarke in the Georgia militia. He was assigned to a company headed by a Captain Dabney, who soon gave his own surname to the young soldier.

As Dabney prepared to join American patriots who had ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

William Flora was born probably in the vicinity of Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of free black parents, whose names are unknown. On the eve of the American Revolution fewer than 2,000 free blacks lived in Virginia. The colony's statutes forbade the manumission of slaves except those who exposed an incipient slave uprising. Consequently, Flora, who was known as “Billy,” was probably descended from Africans who arrived in Virginia before 1640, when blacks were treated like indentured servants rather than slaves.

Nothing is known about Flora's life prior to 1775, when he joined Colonel William Woodford's Second Virginia Regiment as a private. He furnished his own musket, suggesting that he had already earned the esteem of his white neighbors, because the colony's statutes also barred free blacks from bearing arms and from serving in the militia. He fought against the British and Loyalist forces commanded by Lord ...

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Thaddeus Russell

Prince Hall was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, the son of a “white English leather worker” and a “free woman of African and French descent”; his birth date is sometimes given as September 12, 1748 (Horton). He was the slave of William Hall, a leather dresser. At age seventeen, Hall found passage to Boston, Massachusetts, by working on a ship and became employed there as a leather worker. In 1762 he joined the Congregational Church on School Street. He received his manumission in 1770. Official records indicate that Hall was married three times. In 1763 he married Sarah Ritchie, a slave. In 1770, after her death, he married Flora Gibbs of Gloucester, Massachusetts; they had one son, Prince Africanus. In 1798 Hall married Sylvia Ward. The reason for the dissolution of the second marriage is unclear.

In March 1775 Hall was one ...

Article

Richard S. Newman

Born on the island of Barbados, Prince Hall forged his reputation in the burgeoning free black community of Boston during the 1770s, 1780s, and 1790s. His birth and early life have been the subjects of much debate. He was reputedly born free in 1748, but Hall's birth may have occurred as early as 1735. He was a child of mixed-race parents: his father was English, and his mother was a free woman of color. Hall journeyed to Boston in 1765 and worked in the leather trade.

Like his birth date, Hall's status in colonial Boston has aroused scholarly debate. Although he was technically the slave of the Bostonian William Hall Prince Hall was said to have believed that he was free as his manumission papers noted In any event Hall secured his liberty and began working as a leather merchant He supplied leather goods to the ...

Article

Lemuel Haynes was born in West Hartford, Connecticut, to a black father he never knew and a white mother who refused to acknowledge him. In his infancy he was made an indentured servant to a white family in Granville, Massachusetts, who treated him as one of their children. A serious and studious child, he received a common school education as well as a religious upbringing.

Haynes's indenture ended in 1774, whereupon he became a Minuteman in the Continental Army. During the Revolutionary War he fought at the siege of Boston and Fort Ticonderoga. After the war he studied Latin and Greek with local ministers and was ordained by the Congregationalists, apparently the first African American ordained by a mainstream white denomination. Throughout the next five decades he ministered to white congregations in New England and New York.

Haynes spoke little on race but did write a manuscript called ...

Article

Scott A. Miltenberger

Scholars have written more about the religious teachings and writings of Lemuel Haynes than about his life, yet his beliefs were born of his life experiences; each shaped the other, with profound consequences. Haynes was born in West Hartford, Connecticut, to an African father and a white mother. His parents deserted him before he was six months old, and Haynes was indentured to David Rose a deacon at the Middle Granville Congregational Church Raised as their son Haynes worked the Roses farm and attended the district school While he was still quite young he experienced an intense religious conversion at the sight of the aurora borealis For the remainder of his life Haynes devoted himself to theology and the Bible endeavors that the Roses happily encouraged With their help and support he immersed himself in religious studies reading not only the Bible but also the sermons of noted ...

Article

Sarah J. Purcell

Agrippa Hull was born a free African American in Northampton, Massachusetts, of unknown parentage. He was taken to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, at the age of six by Joab, an African American former servant to Jonathan Edwards. When Hull was eighteen years old, in May 1777, he enlisted to fight in the American Revolution as a private in General John Paterson's brigade of the First Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental army. Free blacks had been allowed by the Continental Congress to enlist in the army since January 1776, but each unit commander determined whether or not he would accept African American recruits.

Hull served as General Paterson's personal orderly for two years. He then attended General Tadeusz Kosciuszko the Polish volunteer in the American cause as an orderly for four years and two months As an orderly Hull performed a variety of personal and military ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Hull was born free in Northampton, Massachusetts. In later years, according to Thomas Egleston, General Paterson's biographer, Hull would say that he was the son of an African prince. He was taken to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, when he was six years old by a black man named Joab. On 1 May 1777, when he was eighteen, he enlisted in the Massachusetts Line, the state militia, as a private. For the next two years he was Paterson's orderly, known among those with whom he served for his intelligence and wit. He was almost certainly among the more than eight hundred African Americans at the battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778, since he was serving under Paterson at the time and Paterson's brigade fought in the battle. The historian Richard S. Walling includes Hull in a list of those whose presence at the battle is probable but not ...

Article

Patrick G. Williams

Lafayette, James (1748–09 August 1830), patriot spy, also known to history as James Armistead, was born in slavery; little is recorded of his parentage or early life except that he belonged to William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. In the summer of 1781 James was attending his master while Armistead worked as a commissary in Richmond, supplying patriot forces under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette’s men had been sent south to counter British units under Charles Cornwallis then operating in eastern Virginia. When it became known that Lafayette was recruiting spies to keep better track of Cornwallis’s intentions, James (with his master’s consent) volunteered, believing such service might win him his freedom.

By late July James had crossed into the British camp at Portsmouth and apparently was employed as a forager His work enabled him in the course of gathering food to ...

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Rayford W. Logan

James Nickens was a freeborn descendant of Edward Nickens, a well-to-do black landowner of Lancaster County, Virginia. Nickens, along with several brothers and cousins, fought against the British on land and at sea. He enlisted in the naval service in the early days of the American Revolution (1775–1783) for a period of three years. He served on three or four vessels, notably for two years and three months on the Norfolk Revenge, an armed galley propelled by sails. After his discharge from the U.S. Navy, he enlisted at the Lancaster Court House for land service until the end of the war in 1783. He joined troops under Baron von Steuben in Cumberland County, North Carolina, and served in an artillery regiment in South Carolina under General Nathaniel Greene. At the Battle of Eutaw Springs, near Eutawville, South Carolina, on September 8, 1781 officers ...

Article

Sarah J. Purcell

Joseph Ranger was born probably in Northumberland County, Virginia, to unknown parents. Ranger was a free African American, or perhaps a runaway slave, who probably worked as a seaman in Northumberland County and Elizabeth City County before the Revolutionary War. In the early eighteenth century, Virginia's waters were sailed extensively by free African Americans and slaves who also worked in the colony's two shipyards. Despite long-standing concern among the elite in the South about arming even free African Americans for fear of inciting slave revolt, the maritime experiences of Virginia's African Americans made them prime candidates for enlistment in the state navy (just as many African American seamen served in the Continental navy).

Joseph Ranger enlisted in the Virginia navy in 1776 one of many African Americans who served on racially mixed naval crews Ranger served in the Virginia navy for eleven years the longest recorded term of ...

Article

Patrick G. Williams

Jack Sisson was also known as Tack Sisson, Guy Watson, or Prince. He was one of those African American patriots whose lives were allowed by their contemporaries to become shrouded in obscurity. Little record exists of his whereabouts, activities, or circumstances before or after the exploit for which he is noted—the July 1777 abduction of Brigadier General Richard Prescott, commander of the redcoat garrison at Newport, Rhode Island. Sisson was among the forty volunteers Lieutenant Colonel William Barton raised from his regiment with the intention of seizing a British officer of sufficient rank that he might be exchanged for the captured American general Charles Lee. Some accounts suggest Sisson was Barton s servant Sisson steered one of the whaleboats that made their way with muffled oars from Tiverton Rhode Island toward Prescott s lodgings at the Overing House near Newport Escaping the attention of ...