African American role in the American Revolution
Duration: 3-4 class periods
; Students will research secondary and primary sources to analyze data on the
African Americans role in the American Revolution.
; Students will create a poster or spoke diagram on the role of the African
American in the American Revolution
The student understands the Revolution's effects on different social groups. Explain the revolutionary hopes of enslaved and free African Americans and the gradual abolition of slavery in the northern states
; What did it mean to African Americans to fight in the wars of white men?
; What did they fight for?
; How did their military roles affect their self-image as men and (in some cases) as
; What resolutions or laws were enacted to recruit or limit their participation in the
; What proportion or percentage of African Americans served in both the
Continental and British armies?
1. Review the objectives and unit questions with students.
2. Have the students’ research websites and resource books on the African
American Role in the American Revolution.
3. Provide students with websites, population data and biography information.
4. Have students color in the graphs on African/slave population that served in
the American Revolution and answer questions to interpret data.
5. After students have researched and completed charts have them create a poster
or spoke diagram on the role of the African American in the American
Revolution. Make sure they address the unit questions when designing and
creating the project.
Black Minutemen fought at Lexington and Concord as early as April 1775, but in May of that same year, the Committee for safety of the Massachusetts Legislature presented a resolution that read:
"Resolved that it is the opinion of this Committee, as the contest now between Great
Britain and the Colonies respects the liberties and privileges of the latter, which the
Colonies are determined to maintain, that the admission of any persons, as soldiers,
into the army now raising, but only such as are freemen, will be inconsistent with the
principles that are to be supported, and reflect dishonor on the colony, and that no
slaves be admitted into this army, under any consideration whatever.”
In November 1775 George Washington authorized recruiting officers to sign up free
Blacks, but still prohibited slave participation.
British forces began offering freedom to Black slaves in return for their joining His
Majesty's Troops, and by December 1775 almost 300 Blacks were members of Lord
Dunmore's "Ethiopian Regiment." Their uniforms were inscribed "Liberty to Slaves.".
Some slaves did participate as "substitutes" for their masters.
By mid-1778, an average of 42 Black soldiers was in each integrated brigade, and
later all-Black units were formed in Rhode Island, Boston, and Connecticut. One of
these units, relatively untrained, fought the battle of Rhode Island on Aquidneck
Island in August 1778. It held the line for four hours against British-Hessian assaults,
enabling the entire American Army to escape a trap. A monument to their courage
was erected in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
By 1779, the issue of enlisting Black soldiers had been resolved. With his troop
strength dangerously low, George Washington welcomed all Blacks, free or slave,
into the ranks.
In a Colonial Army that reached a peak of 90,000, approximately up to 10,000 Black
soldiers fought in most of the major battles, accumulating honors and praise from
commanders. At least an equal number fought for the British side.
The Continental Navy was small and ships suffered chronic manpower shortages.
Although no ship captains were Black, many pilots were Black, and no state passed
legislation barring Blacks from naval service. In fact, several states paid bonuses or
granted freedom to known slaves for Black crew members.
In 1775, in the seaport city of Newport, Rhode Island, a recruiting poster was
displayed seeking "ye able backed sailors, men white or black, to volunteer for naval
service in ye interest of freedom."
Despite heroic efforts by Black Americans in the Revolutionary War, their
contributions were soon forgotten and none were given much recognition or declared
to be national heroes. At the end of the American Revolution, Blacks were virtually
eliminated from the armed forces of the new nation.
African Americans — slave and free — served on both sides during the war. The British
actively recruited slaves belonging to Patriot masters. Because of manpower shortages, George Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the Continental Army. Small all-black units were formed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; many were slaves promised freedom for serving. Another all-black unit came from Haiti with French forces. Casualties
The total loss of life resulting from the American Revolutionary War is unknown. As was typical in the wars of the era, disease claimed more lives than battle. Historian Joseph Ehllis suggests that Washington's decision to have his troops inoculated against the smallpox epidemic was one of his most important decisions.
An estimated 25,000 American Revolutionaries died during active military service. About 8,000 of these deaths were in battle; the other 17,000 deaths were from disease, including about 8,000 - 12,000 who died while prisoners of war, most in rotting prison ships in New York. The number of Revolutionaries seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from 8,500 to 25,000. The total American military casualty figure was therefore as high as 50,000.
About 171,000 seamen served for the British during the war; about 25 to 50 percent of them had been pressed into service. About 1,240 were killed in battle, while 18,500 died from disease. The greatest killer was scurvy, a disease known at the time to be easily preventable by issuing lemon juice to sailors. About 42,000 British sailors deserted during the war.
Approximately 1,200 Germans were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accident. About 16,000 of the remaining German troops returned home, but roughly
5,500 remained in the United States after the war for various reasons, many eventually becoming American citizens. No reliable statistics exist for the number of casualties among other groups, including Loyalists, British regulars, Native Americans, French and Spanish troops, and civilians.
1. Boyrereau Brinch, an enslaved man in Connecticut, fought in the American
army during the Revolution in order to earn his freedom. Brinch had been
captured in West Africa at age sixteen and sold as a slave in Barbados and later
Connecticut, where he joined an infantry regiment in 1777. At the end of the war
he was honorably discharged and emancipated. In these selections from his 1810
narrative, as told to Benjamin Prentiss and published as The Blind African Slave,
Brinch recounts his enlistment, his military experiences, his close and fierce
combat with a British soldier, and his long-sought emancipation.
2. Boston King, an enslaved man in South Carolina, fled a cruel master and an
impending beating to "throw myself in the hands of the English." After surviving
smallpox and escaping capture by Southern Loyalists, he became a servant to a
British commander in South Carolina. Near the end of the war he was shipped
with fellow black Loyalists to New York City, where they felt "inexpressible
anguish and terror" at seeing Southern slave owners grabbing their former slaves
off the streets and even "dragging them out of their beds." He was fortunate to be
among the black Loyalists evacuated by the British to Nova Scotia, Canada, in
compensation for their service. There he became a Methodist minister and, having
moved to Sierra Leone in West Africa, published his memoir in 1798, from which
this excerpt is taken.
3. Crispus Attucks, a Black man who was the first of five to die in the Boston
Massacre of 1770, is said to be one of the first martyrs to American independence.
Eyewitness reports credit Attucks with shaping and dominating the action, and
when the people faltered, he is said to have been the one who rallied them and
encouraged them to stand their ground.
African Americans in the American Revolution
0 New Hampshire Slaves who fought in theAfrican Americans who served in the American RevolutionAmerican Revolution
200 - NH Slaves 4483 - African Americans
Soldiers under arms during the American Revolution
1776 Soldiers1777 Soldiers1780 Soldiers1783 Soldiers
1776 - 90,000 soldiers
1777 - 45,000 soldiers
1780 - 25,000 soldiers
1783 - 13,500 soldiers
Number of Slaves and total Soldiers Who Fought
On the American side in the Revolution
Slaves Who Fought Total Soldiers Who Fought
10,000 Slaves fought in the war on the Patriots’ side
170,000 Soldiers (including both Black and White) fought in the war
Slave Population 1755
Portsmouth, NHState of NH
170 Slaves in Portsmouth, NH 656 Africans in State of NH
Graph and Research Questions:
1. What percentage of NH slaves served in the war compared to the total amount of
African Americans who served in the war?
2. From the years 1776-1783 did the amount of soldiers under arms increase or
decrease? Explain why you think this occurred.
3. What is the ratio of slaves to total amount of soldiers that fought in the war?
4. What proportion of NH slaves lived in Portsmouth in 1755?
5. Based on the graphs and your research, support or dispute the following statement:
African Americans fought in the American Revolution to gain their liberties.