Before the Revolutionary War or the war of independence, the 13 American colonies were ruled by Britain. This arrangement initially worked out well under the policy of salutary neglect until later when colonists got enraged at British rule amid unfair taxation and other factors and rose to fight for independence.
Historians say that when the Revolutionary War or the American Revolution began, enslaved people of African descent faced a difficult choice: Should they fight for the patriots (members of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution) with the hope that a new nation will emerge and recognize their humanity or escape to the British, who promised freedom for all Blacks who would join them? Some enslaved Blacks also wondered if they shouldn’t intervene and just observe what will happen.
At the end of the day, many enslaved Blacks joined the side that they believed would grant them freedom even though some of them had to wait for years after the war before they gained their freedom. It is reported that more than 5,000 enslaved people of African descent joined the Revolution on the Patriot side while 20,000 served the crown.
The following are Black heroes who played important roles in the war and should always be remembered for their bravery:
The Boston Massacre was a tragic event in American history that paved the way for the American Revolution or America’s quest to become an independent country from Britain. It began when a fight broke out in 1770 in Boston, Massachusetts, that ended with British soldiers killing five American colonists.
Crispus Attucks was the first person killed in the Boston Massacre – and thus became known as the first fatality in the fight for American independence. As an African-American patriot, Attucks represents the 5,000 African American soldiers who fought for an independent America. His death contributed to the unpopularity of the British regime in North America in the years before the American Revolution.
Not much is known about his early life, however, varying accounts state that his father must have been an enslaved man named Prince Yonger. His mother was said to be Nancy Attucks, a Native Indian.
It is reported that a quick check of the Massachusetts State Archives will introduce you to a petition written to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony about the Battle of Charlestown, part of which reads: “…we declare that a Negro man…of Col. Frye’s Regiment, Capt. Ames Company in the late Battle of Charleston, behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an excellent officer.”
The document was dated December of 1775, six months after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and is signed by fourteen officers who were present at the battle. Over 2,000 colonists had participated in the battle and even though there were brave men, no one was given any special mention like the above. This revolutionary hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill was Salem Poor, an African American who was born into slavery in 1747 on a farm in Andover, Massachusetts.
Poor managed to buy his freedom and married before leaving his wife and son behind in May 1775 to fight for the patriot cause at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He has since been hailed by historians as a perfect example of the African-American contribution to the founding of the nation. On March 25, 1975, the Revolutionary War soldier was honored with his image on a ten cent postage stamp.
James Armistead Lafayette
The British General Lord Charles Cornwallis and his army on October 19, 1781, surrendered to General George Washington’s American force and its French allies at the Battle of Yorktown. According to the Washington Library, that marked the conclusion of the last major battle of the American Revolution leading to serious negotiations that ended in recognition of American independence at the Peace of Paris. And this was largely thanks to the patriotic service of James Armistead Lafayette. Born into slavery, Armistead volunteered to join the U.S. Army to fight for America’s freedom. He ended up spying on the Americans for the British and vice versa.
When he joined the Patriots, they asked him to infiltrate the enemy and gather intelligence. So he posed as a runaway slave who wanted to serve the crown. The British accepted him and curiously also assigned him to spy on the Patriots. But being on the side of the Patriots, he brought wrong information about the Continental Army to the British while providing important details of British troop movements to the Patriots. This helped the Americans at the Siege of Yorktown, which eventually ended the war.
Exactly 246 years after her pioneering book was published in London in 1773, Phillis Wheatley was finally honored in 2019 with a befitting Blue plaque in the City of London. At the age of 12, after being sold into slavery from her home in West Africa and taken to North America, Wheatley wrote her first poem to the University of Cambridge-New England which was made public. This would start a writing career for the enslaved West African girl who at 14 saw her first poem “On Messers Hussey and Coffin” published in the Mercury, a newspaper in Newport, Rhode Island.
She would later travel to England at the age of 20 in July 1773 with Nathaniel Wheatley, her owner, to get her first book “Poems of Various Subject, Religious and Moral” published in the same year. Wheatley became the first African American and one of the first women to publish a book of poetry in the colonies in 1773. Her poems were read by colonists. Apart from her works condemning slavery, Wheatley also advocated for independence, throwing her weight behind George Washington’s Revolutionary War in her poem, “To His Excellency, General Washington.” Washington also reportedly admired her works.