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Cromwell, Oliver  

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 ...


Dabney, Austin  

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 ...


Flora, William  

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 ...


Fraunces, Samuel  

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 ...


Hall, Prince  

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 ...


Haynes, Lemuel  

Richard Newman

Congregational minister, was born in West Hartford, Connecticut, the son of a black father and a white mother, both unknown, and both of whom abandoned him at birth. He was indentured at five months of age to a white family named Rose through whom he absorbed strong Calvinist theology and evangelical piety. He was educated in the local schools, but, a serious and diligent child, he also taught himself by the light of the fireside at night; he later said, “I made it my rule to know more every night than I knew in the morning.” In 1783 he married Elizabeth Babbit, a white schoolteacher who had proposed to him; they became the parents of ten children.

Haynes fulfilled his indenture and came of age just as the American Revolution was beginning. He signed up as a minuteman in 1774 and joined militia troops at Roxbury Massachusetts ...


Hull, Agrippa  

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 ...


Lafayette, James Armistead  

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 ...


Nickens, James  

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 ...


Ranger, Joseph  

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 ...


Sisson, Jack  

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 ...


Starlins, Mark  

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 ...


Stedman, Cato  

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 ...


Tarrant, Caesar  

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 ...