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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

Robert Scott Davis

Revolutionary War veteran, was born a slave in Wake County, North Carolina. Not much is known about Dabney's life before the war. Several factors made both slavery and freedom for African Americans especially peculiar institutions in the environment of Revolutionary War–era Georgia, from which Dabney emerged. Slaves were initially prohibited when the colony was founded in 1733. Ethnic groups such as the Continental Protestants at Ebenezer, known as Salzburgers, and the Highland Scots at Darien supported this prohibition until Georgia's trustees, under extreme public pressure, finally allowed slavery in 1749. The Quakers at Wrightsborough never allowed slavery among their membership. The supporters of the American Revolution in Darien issued a declaration against slavery as late as 1775 although this effort was not continued after the war The War of Independence created unusual circumstances for African Americans both those who were free and those who were slaves ...

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 ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

war hero and businessman, 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 two thousand free blacks lived in Virginia. The colony's statutes forbade the manumission of slaves except those who exposed an incipient slave uprising. Consequently, William, 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 British and Loyalist forces ...

Article

John Howard Smith

tavern owner and innkeeper in New York City and Philadelphia, was probably born in the French West Indies. There seems to be some controversy regarding his race, as his nickname, “Black Sam,” would indicate an African American identity, while some primary sources imply that he was either white or a Mulatto. Historians are generally agreed, however, that Fraunces was African American. Much of what is known about him comes from his 1785 petition for compensation from Congress for services rendered during the American War of Independence, letters from George Washington, and an obituary in the 13 October 1795 issue of the Gazette of the United States. He owned an inn in New York City in 1755 and the following year obtained a license to operate an ordinary which was a tavern serving meals as well as the usual ales and spirits At this time he was married ...

Article

Sarah J. Purcell

Revolutionary War soldier, was born free 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 Revolutionary War 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 duties for the ...

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 ...

Article

Elizabeth Kuebler-Wolf

slave and Revolutionary War spy, was born James Armistead, a slave belonging to the planter William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. Nothing is known of his parents, but it is reasonable to assume that William Armistead also held, at least at some point, James's mother and possibly his father as slaves. James Armistead was a skilled worker whom William Armistead employed in his Richmond offices apparently in a clerical capacity. During the Revolutionary War, William Armistead served as a military supply officer, with James Armistead accompanying him as a body servant. Later William Armistead was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

James Armistead accompanied William Armistead to Richmond in the summer of 1781 while William was fulfilling his duties as the commissary of military supplies to the Continental army. American forces, led by the French Marquis de Lafayette, and British troops led by Lord Cornwallis ...

Article

Karen E. Sutton

free black veteran of the American Revolution, was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, to Elizabeth Nicken, a free woman, and an unnamed father. Early in life James indentured himself to Edward Ingram until his thirty-first birthday (1768). In 1776James Nickens may have moved in with his cousin, John Nickens, to establish himself. He was finally on his own when he decided to join the war effort.

Nickens served first as a seaman in the Virginia state navy. Since African Americans dominated the water professions, it was natural that many, including Nickens, chose to serve on the water during the war. Perhaps he heard about hostile British ships entering the Chesapeake Bay and threatening Virginia waters in January 1777. Enlisting in the navy on 19 July 1777, Nickens served three years on board the Revenge and the Hero There he helped perform the ...

Article

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

Sarah J. Purcell

Revolutionary War seaman, was born probably in Northumberland County, Virginia, to parents whose names are unknown. It is not known whether Ranger was a free black or a runaway slave. He 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 blacks 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 blacks for fear of inciting slave revolts, the maritime experiences of Virginia's blacks made them prime candidates for enlistment in the state navy, just as many black seamen served in the Continental navy.

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

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 ...

Article

Patrick G. Williams

Revolutionary War soldier, was also known as Tack Sisson, Guy Watson, or Prince. His place of birth and the names of his parents are unknown. In fact, 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 British 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 that 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 British ships the force ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Revolutionary War sailor in the Virginia State Navy, was born in Africa and forcibly brought to the colonies as a boy to work as a slave. Working for a master in an area along the James River in Virginia, Starlins would eventually gain an intimate knowledge of the river and its many inlets and tributaries; in fact, “Captain” would soon become his nickname. Although nothing is known of Starlins's life other than his military service, those that remember him recall him as “a devoted patriot” who “evinced a remarkable attachment” to America (Kaplan, 61).

“Captain” Mark Starlins's only recorded service in the American Revolution was aboard the armed schooner Patriot in the Virginia State Navy. In 1779, along with five other black sailors, Caesar Tarrant, David Baker, Jack Knight, Cuffee, and Pluto, Starlins took part in the Patriot s capture of the Boston ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Revolutionary War soldier, was a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the American War of Independence broke out in 1775. Though precise facts about Cato's background are unknown, local lore asserts that Stedman was a slave and was brought to America from Africa, while his surname suggests that he was possibly the slave of the Ebenezer Stedman family of Cambridge.

When British regulars set out from Boston in the early hours of 19 April 1775 to confiscate rebel supplies and munitions at Concord Massachusetts little did they realize that their expedition would result in the shot heard around the world at nearby Lexington after a historic confrontation with local militiamen Although patriots were bloodied to the count of eighteen men left dead and wounded on the town green morale was still high and the day was far from over After reaching Concord the British troops had to retrace ...

Article

Michael E. Hucles

Caesar Tarrant was born into slavery, probably at Hampton, Virginia. The identity of his parents is unknown. In his early adulthood, Caesar was sold to Carter Tarrant upon the death of his master Robert Hundley. His purchase price exceeded the normal price for male slaves because Tarrant had a particular skill, that of a river pilot. Just how Tarrant acquired the skill is unclear. Typically, the Tidewater area river pilot was white and passed the skill on to his son. In any case, Tarrant would eventually use this skill to parlay his freedom.

Sometime prior to the American Revolution, Tarrant married Lucy, the slave of neighbor John Rogers. This so-called “broad” marriage of slaves who resided apart from one another produced three children. Throughout his life, Tarrant longed for his family's freedom.

The American Revolution provided Tarrant with the opportunity to secure his own freedom As ...

Article

Michael E. Hucles

patriot, was born into slavery, probably at Hampton, Virginia. The identity of his parents is unknown. In his early adulthood, Caesar was sold to Carter Tarrant upon the death of his master Robert Hundley. His purchase price exceeded the normal price for male slaves because Tarrant had a particular skill, that of a river pilot. Just how Tarrant acquired the skill is unclear. Typically, the Tidewater-area river pilot was white and passed the skill on to his son. In any case, Tarrant would eventually use this skill to parlay his freedom.

Sometime prior to the American Revolution, Tarrant married Lucy, the slave of a neighbor, John Rogers. This so-called “broad” marriage of slaves who resided apart from one another produced three children. Throughout his life, Tarrant longed for his family's freedom.

The American Revolution provided Tarrant with the chance to secure his own liberty As a ...