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Alonford James Robinson

Information on the birth and early childhood of Crispus Attucks is inconclusive, but historians believe that he was part African and part Native American, and that he was once the slave of William Brown of Framingham, Massachusetts. In November 1750, Attucks escaped. For the next twenty years, he worked on whaling ships docked in ports throughout New England.

His fame is attributable largely to a single fateful day in Boston, March 5, 1770, when anticolonial patriot Samuel Adams urged dockworkers and seamen in Boston to protest the presence of British troops guarding the customs commissioners Attucks was among an estimated fifty men who gathered that night to confront the British and is alleged to have rallied his comrades by declaring Don t be afraid as he led the ranks When British soldiers fired on the protesters Attucks was the first of five men killed in what ...

Article

Harry M. Ward

probably a sailor, was the first to be killed in the Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770. Generally regarded to have been of mixed ancestry (African, Indian, and white), Attucks seems to have hailed from a Natick Indian settlement, Mashpee (incorporated as a district in 1763, near Framingham, Massachusetts). While Attucks's life and background before the tragic event are uncertain, two reasonable conjectures stand out. First, he was a descendant of those Natick Indians converted to Christianity in the seventeenth century. One tribesman, John Attuck, was hanged on 22 June 1676 for allegedly conspiring with the Indian insurrection of that year. Second, it appears that Attucks may have once been a slave. The Boston Gazette of 2 October 1750 printed this notice Ran away from his Master William Brown of Framingham on the 30th of September last a mulatto Fellow about twenty seven years of age ...

Article

Scott A. Miltenberger

The death of Crispus Attucks is shrouded in myth. John Adams, the future second president of the United States and the defense attorney for the British troops charged with Attucks's murder, accused him of being a rabble-rouser and the instigator of the confrontation that resulted in the now famously known “Boston Massacre” of 1770. John Hancock, a Boston merchant and, like Adams, a member of the Sons of Liberty, celebrated Attucks as a defiant patriot. Attucks's true role remains unclear—much like his life prior to 1770.

Attucks was most probably born a slave in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1723. He was likely of mixed African and Native American parentage (attuck is the Natick Indian word for “deer”). In 1750, at about age twenty-seven, Attucks ran away from his master, most likely a William Brown For the next twenty years he worked as ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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

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

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

Chernoh M. Sesay

abolitionist and founder of the first black Freemasonic lodge, probably received his manumission from William Hall, a Boston leather-dresser, and his wife Susannah in 1770. No extant material confirms Hall as the Barbados son of a white father and a mother of mixed racial heritage, as most of his published biographies state, or as an emigrant to Boston any time before 1760, or as a preacher in a Cambridge church. The slave released by William Hall, only described as Prince, probably went on to become Prince Hall, a Boston leather worker, who, having organized the first black Freemasonic lodge, garnered respect from Boston luminaries and deference from his northern black peers and organized one of the country's oldest African American institutions.

Marriage records show that one or several Prince Halls had several wives. Hall, while a servant to William Hall, married Sarah Richie also ...

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

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

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 ...

Article

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 ...