Students will describe the ways African Americans participated in the Revolutionary War in support of both sides. Maps to Key Concepts 2, 3, 5, 9 & 10
What else should my students know?
6.A Black soldiers participated in the early Revolutionary battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill.
6.B Washington decided to raise a black regiment in 1777-1778 to replenish the dwindling Continental Army. Five thousand black men fought in the Continental Army, and many more served at sea.
6.C The British actively recruited free and enslaved black men. Though the British promised freedom in return for service, black Loyalists faced an uncertain future as the British retreated at the end of the war. Many were re-enslaved when captured by the Patriots, and 3,000-4,000 black Loyalists were evacuated to uncertain fates in Nova Scotia, Jamaica and Britain.
How can I teach this?
- Prince Hall, a free man who had been enslaved in Boston, is believed to have fought at Bunker Hill. An active Freemason, he also authored the 1777 “Slaves’ Petition for Freedom to the Massachusetts Legislature.”
- Though painted after the fact, John Trumbull’s The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775 (ca. 1815) and Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware (ca. 1851) both include images of African-American soldiers.
- "A Proclamation of the Earl of Dunmore" (the Royal Governor of Virginia) offered freedom to any men enslaved by Patriots who agreed to risk their lives by fighting for the Loyalists.
- The Black Brigade of Loyalists, the Ethiopian Regiment and the Black Pioneers were famous groups of Loyalist soldiers. Boston King and Colonel Tye were two famous black Loyalists.
- The Book of Negroes documents the service of 3,000 black Loyalist soldiers evacuated by the British to Nova Scotia.
- Among the primary documents available through the website of the PBS series Africans in America is a British pass issued to a black Loyalist in 1783 ensuring transport to Nova Scotia.
- The website of Colonial Williamsburg details the story of Harry Washington, a laborer enslaved by George Washington who fought for the British and was evacuated from New York City over Washington’s protests.
- The essay “African Americans in the Revolutionary War” by Michael Lee Lanning (available to K-12 teachers with a free account through the website of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History) offers an overview of African-American service on both sides of the war.