African Americans in the American Revolution
Leading into the American Revolution, African Americans were placed in a dilemma of whether to rebel or remain faithful to the crown. There were two sides of the American Revolution; the Patriots (also known as the rebels), were the Americans that wanted to gain their independence from Great Britain. The Loyalist was the people who wanted to stay under the control of Great Britain. Some African Americans joined the Loyalist because they were promised freedom by the British but of course that would not be determined until the actual end result of the war. Although the British were heavily recruiting enslaved African Americans, the Patriots were not as eager to allow African Americans to fight on their side. However, it was not until later into the war when George Washington finally decided to allow free blacks to enlist on the Patriots side because they feared that there would be a rebellion from the slaves.1 While most people viewed the American Revolution as the war for the colonies to gain independence from the British, but African Americans viewed it as the opportunity to obtain their freedom as well.
African Americans made their greatest bid for freedom by fighting on either side of the field in the American Revolution. Early in the Revolution, blacks fought on the Loyalist side and it was not until later in the Revolution when African Americans were allowed to fight on Patriots side and that was only because they were desperately seeking help. But for African Americans it wasn’t about fighting to help either side win, it was more about fighting to achieve the freedom they’ve been long seeking. 2 And with that the British made the first move and told all slaves that they would grant them freedom if they fought on their side. Many American rebel leaders were slave owners. The British governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore made a simple strategy a strategy that he believed that would hit them where it most hurt. In November 1775, he issued a proclamation promising freedom to any slave of a rebel who could make it to the British lines.3 The response was greater than they could have imagined; as many as 30 000 slaves escaped to British lines; knowing that the slaves would do anything to hear the word “freedom”, many slaves jumped on board without hesitation and joined the side of British. In addition, Slaves deserted their horrified owners by the tens of thousands. One, who used his master's last name, was Henry Washington; another renamed himself British Freedom. But the state of Virginia did not take this to well. Down below is Virginia's Response to Dunmore's Proclamation in the Pennsylvania Gazette: Lord Dunmore's cruel policy begins at length to be discovered by the blacks, who have lately deserted from him to a considerable number. When his Lordship first went down to Norfolk he gave great encouragement to unwary Negroes, but, such was his baseness, some of them, it is confidently said, he sent to the West Indies, where these unfortunate creatures were disposed of to defray his Lordship's expenses; and others, such as he took any dislike to, he delivered up to their masters, to be punished. Since the troops under Col. Woodford's command began their march, Lord Dunmore issued a proclamation inviting the slaves of rebels, as he pleased to say, to repair to his standard. A considerable number at first went to him, but upon their masters taking the oath of allegiance, they were immediately told they must return. Some runaways, however, remained, but these were kept constantly employed in digging entrenchments in wet ground, till at length the severity of their labour forced many of them to fly. Those that were left behind have made several attempts to get off, but such is the barbarous policy of this cruel man, he keeps these unhappy creatures not only against their will, but intends to place them in the front of the battle, to prevent their flying, in case of an engagement,...
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The William and Mary Quarterly , Third Series, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Oct., 1958), pp. 494-507
Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2936904
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