African Americans in the Revolutionary War

10 October 2016

Black Codes consisted of stipulations such as, prohibiting their right to vote, forbidding them to sit on juries, and not allowing them the ability to testify against a white person in court. These codes made it hard to really feel like they had freedom and were in no way shape or form equal to a free white American. At the beginning of the American Revolution, African Americans were demanded to choose whether to rebel, or to stay committed to the crown. Many African American slaves fought with Britain in the war because they were promised their freedom once again.

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A significant amount of African American slaves died during the Revolution, some of them got away but not very many. In the United States at this time, about 95% of the African Americans living here were enslaved. They were used by the white Americans during the war because of this. In 1777 George Washington approved the right for African American slaves to enlist, but only a small percentage actually did. A lot of the Northerners thought that the south using slaves on the front line was cruel and that the south needed their slaves in order to continue growing their economy.

This made the South seem incompetent without their slaves. The African Americans fought for the United States and England. This was not right to use them and the British even used their heads to make them join and fight against the United States. The African Americans could win their freedom and go against their masters. Crispus Attucks was a black man who was considered the first death of the American Revolution. He yelled out “Don’t be afraid! ”, and led a group of protesters against the British soldiers. I believe that the Boston Massacre was one of the final straws for the need of independence.

An African American named Paul Cuffe, helped the American colonies by supplying them with goods and sneaking them past British ships. Another African American who was a minute man during the Boston Massacre was Lemuel Haynes. Salem Poor was one of the African American soldiers who fought at Bunker Hill. It is said that he shot Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie, a British officer. Prince Whipple was born in Africa and sold into American slavery at a young age. His master was William Whipple who he fought alongside in the war, but even though he did this he remained a slave throughout the revolution.

He was was one of the 20 African American slaves who signed the New Hamshire Legislature which was asking for the elimination of slavery within this state. African-Americans were a very helpful and prominent part in fighting at Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. James Armistead successfully petitioned his master to allow him to serve with the Marquis de LaFayette and he became a double agent in General LaFayette’s service. He pretended to be a Loyalist slave spying on the Americans and invaded the Bristish General, Charles Cornwallis’s headquarters.

All of the knowledge he gave to LaFayette helped the Americans win at the battle of Yorktown. LaFayette was so impressed with his doing that he actually petitioned the Virginia legislature to give him his freedom. When Lafayette saw Armistead in a crowd he called him by name and hugged him in public. James Armistead’s accomplishments in the revolution were so prominent and uplifting. My favorite African American idol during the revolution to learn about is Phillis Wheatley. Not only because she is an intelligent and fortifying women but also for her poetry and strength to find a passion during these times.

She was the first African American woman to have her work published as an American poet. . She was born in Gambia, Africa as a slave child and took her name from the Phillis, the slave ship that brought her to Boston and from her master, John Wheatley. Wheatley was a huge supporter of America freedom as well as African American slaves freedom. She published a collection of poems including one that was a memorial for the Boston Massacre. Phillis also wrote a poem for George Washington that she mailed to Cambridge, Massachusetts, the headquarters for the commander in chief.

Washington happily replied with an invitation to come and visit him. She accepted immediately and met with him in Cambridge. George Washington also passed her story and excitement on to someone he knew in the publishing industry, and her poem was printed several times for the patriot cause. Phillis Wheatley was one of the most renowned poets of the eighteenth century. She was the first African-American to publish a book of imaginative writing and the first to start the African-American literary tradition.

She combined religion and neo-classicism in her poems and most of her poems propose an escape from slavery. She rejoices death and the rewards and liberty of life after death. Mary Wheatley, the daughter of the family, taught her Latin, religion, English and literature. Apparently brilliant and with an ability for learning, Phillis became fluent in English. She was able to read passages from the bible and also showed interest towards astronomy, geography, history, Latin and Greek classics and British literature. Soon enough she was considered as a full-fledged poet in the art.

Wheatley was influenced by the religious beliefs of her master and hence accepted Christianity as her religion. Her story is so outstanding to me and the most powerful and prominent of them all. Even though she wasn’t actually fighting in the revolutionary war she was making a difference in history, fighting for what she believed in and following her heart and passion. To me this is just as worthy as enlisting in the war. In many ways, George Washington himself embodied the Revolution’s mixed message for African Americans.

Like many of the Founding Fathers, Washington owned slaves throughout his life and was influenced by contemporary racist views about African inferiority. Initially opposed to black enlistment in the Continental Army, Washington reluctantly agreed to allow certain free blacks to fight after Lord Dunmore’s proclamation threatened to bring black patriots over to the British cause. In time the valor of his patriotic black soldiers and his friendship with antislavery advocates such as the Marquis de LaFayette convinced Washington that slavery was economically unsound as well as morally wrong.

Yet he maintained an ambiguous stance toward the institution, anxious to avoid fracturing the delicate sectional balance crafted at the Constitutional Convention. Washington’s relationship with African Americans, like that of the new nation itself, was contradictory. He believed in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” but signed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, he viewed slavery as a moral evil but did not free his own slaves until after his death. This is baffling to me.

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