Encomiums in Print: Nineteenth Century Remembrances of Black Revolutionary Veterans (Hannah Till, Thomas Carney, Edward Hector, Jacob Francis, and Oliver Cromwell)




George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879),
“Veteran of ’76.”
Photograph courtesy of the St. Louis Art Museum.

Despite the growth of racism in the 19th century, and that many Americans did not know African Americans fought for the cause of Independence during our founding war (or were wilfully ignorant on the matter), a small number of aged black veterans received some recognition for their service. The largest cohort were those who, like their white comrades, received veterans pensions, and perhaps some notoriety in their own community. A few were recognized in newspapers and at least one book, before or after they died. The following accounts are from my collection, and all but one were included in my book “They Were Good Soldiers.”

If anyone locates other, similar, newspaper or other printed articles or obituaries and would be willing to share them, please contact me at ju_rees@msn.com .

Note: Most of these 19th century accounts contain some errors, but the basic truth of their narratives can be corroborated. Some sources will be provided that both correct the errors and support the truth in these accounts.

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Hannah Till, 1824-1825

Current Events, 1820 – Missouri Compromise allows Missouri to become a slave state, establishes Maine as a free state, and bans slavery in the territory west of Missouri. The first organized emigration of U.S. blacks back to Africa from New York to Sierra Leone.

1822 – Denmark Vesey, a free black, organizes an unsuccessful slave uprising in Charleston, SC.. Segregated public schools for blacks open in Philadelphia.

1824 – Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, is established by freed American slave

*      *      *

    Gen. George Washington’s wartime military household had a retinue of cooks and other servants, white and black, free and enslaved, with several supervisors to oversee the whole. Few are known at all beyond mention in the household accounts. The best-known is William “Billy” Lee, the commander-in-chief’s body slave; his biography is included in Douglas R. Egerton’s, Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), pages 3-14. Hannah Till’s story, while not as comprehensive, is nonetheless fascinating, as much by what was set down on paper as for what can be read between those lines. 

“1825 – Died at Philadelphia, Mrs. Hannah Till, a black women, who had been cook to General Washington and General La Fayette, in all their campaigns during the war of Independence. The latter at my instance went to see her, at No. 182 South Fourth street, when he was here in 1825, and made her a present to be remembered.” (John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, in the Olden Time, two volumes (Philadelphia: Published by Whiting and Thomas, 1856), vol. I, 601.)

The following is from John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, being a collection of memoirs, anecdotes, & incidents of the city and its inhabitants (Philadelphia: For Sale by Uriah Hunt, 1830), 352-353.

“Hannah Till
This is the name of a black woman whom I saw in March, 1824, in her 102d year of age – a pious woman, possessing a sound mind and memory, and fruitful of anecdote of the Revolutionary war, in which she had served her seven years of service to General Washington and La Fayette, as cook, &c. I saw her in her own small frame house, No. 182, south Fourth street, a little below Pine street. Her original name was Long Point – a name given her father for his successful conflict with a buck at that place near Smyrna. She was born in Kent county, Delaware. Her master, John Brinkly, Esq. sold her at the age of 15 years, when she was brought to Pennsylvania. At 25 years of age she was sold to Parson Henderson, and went with hi m to Northumberland. At 35 years of age she was sold to Parson Mason, of New York, with whom she dwelt there until the war of the Revolution; she then bought her freedom, and with her husband was hired into General Washington’s military family as cooks – serving with him in all his campaigns for six and a half years, and for half a year she was lent into the service of General La Fayette. With one or the other of these she was present in all the celebrated battles in which they were engaged. She could speak, in a good strong voice, of all the things she saw in her long life, with better recollection and readier utterance than any other narrator with whom I have had occasion so to converse. I inquired regarding the domestic habits of Washington and others: she said he was very positive in requiring compliance with his orders; but was a moderate and indulgent master. He was sometimes familiar among his equals and guests, and would indulge a moderate laugh. He always had his lady with him in the winter campaigns, and on such occasions, was pleased when freed from mixed company and to be alone in his family. He was moderate in eating and drinking. I asked if she knew that he prayed. She answered that she expected he did, but she did not know that he practiced it. I was the more particular in this, because I had heard directly from Isaac Potts, the public Friend at Valley Forge, that he actually saw him, by chance, at prayer in the bushes at or near his place. I asked her if he ever swore; she answered, that ideas about religion were not very strict, and that she thought that he did not strictly guard against it in times of high excitements, and that she well remembered that on one provocation with her, he called her c—d [colored] fool. General La Fayette she praised greatly – said he was very handsome, tall, slender, and genteel, having a fair white and red face, with reddish hair – that he spoke English plain enough – was always very kind. Her words were very emphatic: – `Truly he was a gentleman to meet and to follow!’
    As I was interested in the narratives of this old black woman, I thought she might afford some gratification to Gen. La Fayette himself again to see her; I made him therefore acquainted with the leading facts. As I never saw either of the parties afterwards, I may add from the communications of my sister who knew her and visited her occasionally, especially in her 104th year. She says she received from her questions, such answers as these – ‘I well remember the arrival of the specie to pay the French army, for the house was so crowded that day that my pastry room was used to lodge the specie in, even while she still used the room. She continued with Washington till after Andre the spy was hung. On that day she saw many tears shed by our officers.’ General La Fayette called on her with Messrs. [Tench] Tilghman and Biddle [likely Clement or Nicholas]. To his question, Where was you when General Washington left Morristown? she answered, I remained more than six months with you, Sir, in the same house. He left her, promising to send her money by his son. The sequel was, that her house was embarrassed for arrear groundrents, and she was soon after informed to make herself easy, for La Fayette had cleared it off! and ‘the pious old soul blesses you and him for the interference.’ More was said, but it might savour of gossip to say more in this article. She has since gone to her reward.”

    Hannah Till was married to Isaac Till. They are recorded to have had seven children: Andrew Till, born circa 1761; John Till, born circa 1765; Sarah Till, born circa 1771; Daniel Till, born between 1775-1795; Philip Till, born 1775-1795; Isaac Worley Till, born 1778, and William Till, born 1780-1790.

    One son was born during the Valley Forge winter: “Isaac Worley Till son to Hannah a free Nigroe woman in full Communion with the Church was born in Gen: Washingtons Camp Valey forge nineteen months ago and baptized in this 4th Sabbath of Augt. 1779”

(Isaac Worley Till baptismal record, 2nd Presbyterian Church, Arch and 3rd Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.)

     Isaac’s birth would have occurred in January or February 1778, at which time Hannah was likely about 40 to 45 years of age.

(Source: C.R. Cole (with Charles L Blockson), “Hannah Till Mother of Isaac Woorley Till,” (Daughters of the American Revolution, commemorative marker research, 2015))

For more on Hannah Till see,

“‘Lately apprehended in the first Maryland regiment …’: African American Women with the Continental Army,” https://www.academia.edu/38515415/_Lately_apprehended_in_the_first_Maryland_regiment_African_American_Women_with_the_Army

The Isaac Potts house, Gen. George Washington’s headquarters during the Valley Forge winter, December 1777 to June 1778. Hannah Till likely gave birth to her son in or near this house.
Hannah Till would have been familiar with Gen. George Washington’s field headquarters, which consisted of the commander-in-chief’s sleeping marquee on the left and the large dining marquee to the right. The storage tent (a horseman’s or wall tent) is just visible behind and to the left of the dining marquee.These tents were reproduced by craftspeople at Colonial Williamsburg, in conjunction with the Museum of the American Revolution.
(Photo courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, Pa.)

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Thomas Carney, 1828

Current Events, 1827 – John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish establish the first African American newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, in New York. The paper circulates in 11 states, the District of Columbia, Haiti, Europe, and Canada. Sarah Mapps Douglass, a black educator and contributor to The Anglo African, an early black paper, establishes a school for black children in Philadelphia.

*      *      *

Daily National Intelligencer, July 22, 1828

“DEATHS … Near the village of Denton, in Maryland, Thomas Carney, a colored man, at the advanced age of 74. At the commencement of the Revolution, Tom enlisted as a soldier under Col. Peter Adams [lieutenant colonel, 7th Maryland Regiment], and soon after was marched to the North, and was in the memorable battle of Germantown. In this action, the Maryland troops played a conspicuous part; but the Americans were compelled to yield to a superior force. Soon after this, Washington retired to Valley Forge, and took up his Winter quarters. The suffering of the army during that severe Winter, are well known to every American. With the spirit of true patriotism, Tom bore huis share of privation and suffering. When the Maryland and Delaware lines were ordered to the south, Tom marched with his brave regiment, and shared, in that quarter, with his companions in arms, the hardships, misfortunes, and glories of the war. At the battle of Guilford Court House, he bore a conspicuous part as a soldier, and has often persisted that, when the Maryland troops came to the charge, he bayoneted seven of the enemy. At Camden, Hobkirk’s Hill, and Ninety six, he bore his part, and was always with his brave regiment under Howard, among the first to the charge. At Ninety-Six, his Captain, (the late Maj. Gen. Benson) received a dangerous wound, but, regardless of nothing but opposing the enemy, he forgot his commander, until ordered to take him to the Surgeon. Though Benson was considerably above the common size, he carried him on his shoulders some considerable distance, to the place at which the surgeon was stationed; but, like a true solder, held on to his musket, that had so often protected him in the hour of danger. At length, overcome by excessive fatigue and heat, as he laid the almost lifeless body of Benson at the feet of the surgeon, he fainted. After he came to himself, he determined to join his regiment again; but, to his great mortification, was peremptorily ordered by the commanding officer to remain, and protect his captain, which he did with care and tenderness. For this kindness and attention, Benson never forgot him, and, whenever he came to this county, invariably paid his first visit to Tom, and, while reviewing the militia, would always have him mounted on a horse, and at his side.”

In actuality, Thomas Carney’s first service was with the Maryland militia (Sarer’s Company, Washington County) in autumn 1777; he and his unit joined the army in time to take part in the October 4 1777 Battle of Germantown. According to historian William Calderhead Carney’s militia company likely spent at least part of the winter of 1778 with the Maryland troops at Wilmington, Delaware, and not at Valley Forge. When he enlisted in the 7th Maryland regiment in the spring of 1778, that also likely occurred in Wilmington.

For more further details of Thomas Carney life see:

William L. Calderhead, “Thomas Carney: Unsung Soldier of the American Revolution,” Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 84 (Winter 1989), 319-326. https://www.academia.edu/42201834/William_L._Calderhead_Thomas_Carney_Unsung_Soldier_of_the_American_Revolution_Maryland_Historical_Magazine_vol._84_Winter_1989_319-326

A good example of a typical Continental company, in this case in Henley’s Additional Regiment (Mass. and N.H.), 1779
(Image courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, Pa.)

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Edward “Ned” Hector, 1834

Current Events, 1831 – Nat Turner launches a bloody uprising among enslaved Virginians in Southampton County. William Lloyd Garrison of Boston begins publishing The Liberator, the most famous anti-slavery newspaper.

1833 – American Antislavery Society, led by William Lloyd Garrison, is organized in Philadelphia. For the next three decades, the Society campaigns that slavery is illegal under natural law, and sees the Constitution “a covenant with hell.” Within five years, the organization has more than 1,350 chapters and over 250,000 members.

1834 – August 1 becomes another black American and abolitionist holiday when Britain abolishes slavery in its colonies.

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In March 1777 Edward Hector, a ‘colored man’, was listed as a bombardier in Colonel Thomas Proctor’s Pennsylvania State Artillery Regiment. It was a rank that engendered some skill and responsibility, as bombardiers were ‘those employed about mortars [and other types of artillery]; they drive the fuse, fix the shell, and load and fire the mortar; they work with the fireworkmen, and are the third rank of a private man in a company of artillery’ (note that examined muster roll extracts seem to use the terms bombardier and gunner interchangeably: the ‘fire-workmen’ or ‘fire-workers’ were ‘the youngest commissioned Officers in a company of artillery’). By autumn 1777, perhaps due to the ban on black participation in the newly-enacted militia law or that a black bombardier was superior in rank to a white matross (the least-skilled position on a gun crew), Hector was relegated to being a wagoner in Proctor’s Regiment. Mr Hector never applied for a federal pension, and when he petitioned for a state pension was denied. The year prior to his death he was awarded a one-time 40-dollar gratuity in recognition of his service.

Edward Hector’s death notice, published in the January 1834 Norristown Free Press, noted:

“During the war of the revolution, his conduct on one memorable occasion, exhibited an example of patriotism and bravery which deserves to be recorded. At the battle of Brandywine he had charge of an ammunition wagon attached to Colonel Proctor’s regiment, and when the American army was obliged to retreat, an order was given by the proper officers to those having charge of the wagons, to abandon them to the enemy, and save themselves by flight. The heroic reply of the deceased was uttered in the true spirit of the Revolution: ‘The enemy shall not have my team; I will save my horses and myself!’ He instantly started on his way, and as he proceeded, amid the confusion of the surrounding scene, he calmly gathered up a few stands of arms which had been left on the field by the retreating soldiers, and safely retired with his wagon, team and all, in face of the victorious foe.”

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Jacob Francis, 1839

Current Events, 1837 – Philadelphia blacks, under the leadership of well-to-do Robert Purvis, organize the Vigilance Committee to aid and assist fugitive slaves. Purvis’ wife, Harriett Forten Purvis, the daughter of successful black businessman James Forten, leads the Female Vigilant Society. Robert Purvis is referred to by some as the “President of the Underground Railroad.” First gathering of the Antislavery Convention of American Women, an inter-racial association of various female antislavery groups, becomes the first independent women’s political organization. Founding of the Institute for Colored Youth, which later became Cheyney University, one of the earliest historically black colleges in the United States.

1838 – Second meeting of the Antislavery Convention of American Women, gathered in Philadelphia at the newly built Pennsylvania Hall, is attacked by a mob. The mob burns down the hall, as well as sets a shelter for black orphans on fire and damages a black church. Pennsylvania Hall was open only three days when it fell. Pennsylvania blacks are disfranchised in the revised state Constitution. A Maryland slave named Fred runs away and later becomes Frederick Douglass.

*      *      *

Jacob Francis, veteran of a 1776 Massachusetts Continental regiment and later in the New Jersey militia, died in 1839, and the 5 August Newark Daily Advertiser republished this notice from the Flemington Gazette:

“Another Hero of the Revolution.— In this village, on Tuesday the 26th of July, JACOB FRANCIS, a colored man, in the 83rd year of his age. He has resided in this place thirty-five years; has been an orderly member of the Baptist Church for thirty years; he has raised a large family, in a manner creditable to his judgement and his Christian character, and lived to see them doing well; and has left the scenes of this mortal existence, deservedly respected by all who knew him. Jacob Francis was a soldier of the Revolution—he served a long tour of duty in the Massachusetts militia, and was some time in the regular army in New Jersey; and we have learned from those who knew him in those days of privation of peril, that his fidelity and good conduct as a soldier were the object of remark, and received the approbation of his officers.  For the last few years he received a pension from the government; an acknowledgement of his services to his country which, though made at a late day, came most opportunely to minister to his comfort in the decline of life, and under the infirmities of old age.”

As John L. Bell notes, ‘This was by far the longest death notice in that issue of the Daily Advertiser, and it was reprinted at least as far away as Cleveland’.

Other Sources: National Archives, Revolutionary Veterans Pension, reel 1015, Jacob Francis, ‘a colored man’ (File No. W459). For a transcript of Francis’s lengthy pension account see, John C. Dann (ed.), The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 390-399 or John U. Rees ‘They Were Good Soldiers’: African–Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775–1783 (Helion and Company: United Kingdom, 2019), 94-99.

Detail from “George Washington at the Battle of Princeton” by Charles Willson Peale (Princeton University Art Museum)

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Oliver Cromwell, 1852

Current Events, 1849 – Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery. She becomes a major conductor on the Underground Railroad, as well as an advocate for Women’s Rights.

1850 – The Compromise of 1850 includes a controversial Fugitive Slave Law that compels all citizens to help in the recovery of fugitive slaves. Free blacks form more Vigilance Committees throughout the North to watch for slave hunters and alert the black community.

1851 – Federal marshals and Maryland slave hunters seek out suspected fugitive slaves in Christiana (Lancaster County), PA. In the ensuing struggle with black and white abolitionists, one of the attackers is killed, another is seriously wounded, and the fugitives all successfully escape. Thirty-six black men and five white men are charged with treason and conspiracy under the federal 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and brought to trial in federal court at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. This trial becomes a cause celebre for American abolitionists. Attorney Thaddeus Stevens defends the accused by pleading self-defense. All the defendants are found innocent in a jury trial.

1852 – Congress repeals the Missouri Compromise, opening western territories to slavery and setting the stage for a bloody struggle between pro and anti-slavery forces in Kansas Territory.

*      *      *

Perhaps the best-known black New Jersey Continental may not have had African heritage after all. At 25 years of age, Oliver Cromwell enlisted for the duration of the war in May 1777 and served to June 1783. His discharge certificate, on file with his pension papers, states, ‘Oliver Cromwell Private has been honored with the Badge of Merit for Six Years Faithful Service’. By his own account he ‘was in the Battle of the Short Hills where Captn [James] Laurie was wounded and taken prisoner …’.

In an 1852 newspaper article the interviewer noted Mr Cromwell claimed to have been in the actions at

‘Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth and Yorktown, at the latter place, he told us, he saw the last man killed … he was also at the battle of Springfield, and says that he saw the house burning in which Mrs. [Hannah] Caldwell was shot, at Connecticut Farms [7 June 1780]’.

The first two cited events occurred before his 1777 enlistment, so those claims are suspect, but Cromwell was most likely present at the other battles. The old soldier also recalled quite accurately the 1782–83 organizational change: in 1777

‘he enlisted… in the second Jersey Regiment commanded by Colonel Shreve … [after Captain Laurie’s death in captivity] the deponent was put under the Command of Captain [Nathaniel] Bowman – that not long before the discharge of the Deponent from service – the regiment to which he belonged was reduced to a Battallion – when he thinks he was commanded by Captain Dayton …’.

Cromwell did indeed serve in Bowman’s light infantry company from July 1777 to December 1783; he was then transferred to the Captain Absolum Martin’s (4th) company, Colonel Cumming’s New Jersey Battalion. The question of Oliver Cromwell’s heritage is interesting. In 1852 he was called ‘an old colored man’ and then ‘half-white’; Eric Grundset’s work, Forgotten Patriots, notes that in some records he was termed a ‘Mulatto’, in others Indian. The question will likely never be settled but does bring to mind a related matter. What were the terms used to denote persons of color of mixed blood? Mulatto seems to be reserved for people with black and white parentage; some people so-termed were described as having ‘black hair, [and] yellow skin’, but yellow was not then used as a synonym for mulatto. Mustee, and less often ‘mustezoes’ or ‘Mestizoes’, was used to denote African and Native American forebears, at least in Rhode Island and the Carolinas.

Other sources: National Arrchives Revolutionary Veterans Pension, reel 695, Oliver Cromwell, ‘colored man’ (File No. S34613), including copy of clipping from the Burlington Gazette, New Jersey, 1852.

For more information on sources and other African American veterans see:

‘They Were Good Soldiers’: African–Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775–1783 (Published by Helion and Company, United Kingdom; available in the U.S. from Casemate Publishing, Inc.)

Note: Current events information gleaned from, American Anti-Slavery and Civil Rights Timeline, https://www.ushistory.org/more/timeline.htm

Courtesy of Marvin Alonzo Greer
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‘Lately apprehended in the first Maryland regiment …’ African American Women with the Continental Army

Rachel (previously called Sarah) and her son Bob, were with the 1st Maryland Regiment in 1778. Image based on an October 28 1778 New Jersey Gazette runaway advertisement.
Artwork by Bryant White (Image courtesy of the artist,
https://whitehistoricart.com/)
 

Contents

1. Forward: Overview of Women with the Armies of the Revolution

2. Return of Women with the Rhode Island Regiment, September 1781

3. Regimental Followers: Rachael, formerly called Sarah, and a “Negro Woman named SUE”

4. With the Regiment, on the Homefront, and a Letter Home: Judith Lines

5. And Enslaved Woman in General Washington’s Military Household: Hannah Till, cook/servant

Appendix: Miscellaneous Information on General Washington’s Wartime Household:

                   Supervisors and Servants (with images of some of Washington’s campaign equipage.)

Links to:

a. General George Washington’s Field Headquarters Complex (Images of tents and equipment, original and recreations), https://www.scribd.com/document/452774430/General-George-Washington-s-Field-Headquarters-Images-of-tents-and-equipment-original-and-recreations

b. Research File: George Washington’s Wartime Household, Staff, Food, and EquipmentWashington Papers (Library of Congress), Revolutionary War Accounts Vouchers and Receipted Accounts (Compiled by John U. Rees and Neal T. Hurst), https://www.scribd.com/document/452773583/George-Washington-s-Wartime-Household-Staff-Food-and-Equipment-Washington-Papers-Library-of-Congress-Revolutionary-War-Accounts-Vouchers-and-Rec

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From 1778 to the end of 1780 the 1st Rhode Island had black enlisted men with white commissioned and non-commissioned officers, while the 2d Rhode Island Regiment consisted solely of white soldiers). In 1781 those two units were combined into a single corps, the Rhode Island Regiment. The companies were segregated, and the 6th and 8th companies were the “black” companies; each had one man serving as a wagoner and each contained two women. Those two companies were also the largest in the regiment. 54 privates in each, 108 total. (32% of privates in the regiment were black.) “Return of Officers, Ncommissd. Officers & Soldiers, Waggoners, Teamsters & Women present in the Rhode Island Regiment,” 4 September 1781 (Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society)

Forward. Hundreds of women followed the Continental Army, some African American. Women of color differed from their white counterparts in that their decision to join the army may not have been of their own free will. Another point must be made, correcting the popular idea of army women, black and white. They were, by and large, respectable and respected; any women who were not, were not long tolerated.

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    As with all the armies that preceded it the Continental Army was not just a community of men. Numbers of women and their accompanying children followed the troops throughout the war, performing tasks that contributed to the soldiers’ welfare.

    From the war’s beginning women’s numbers fluctuated greatly between regiments, and from company to company within each regiment. In December 1777 a return for the main army at Valley Forge showed a total of 400 women present, or one woman for each forty-four enlisted men (though it is possible there were more women with the army during the previous summer). In January 1783, a return for the army at New Windsor gave an average of one woman for every twenty-six enlisted men. During the intervening years the average ratio may have been within the range of one-to-thirty and one-to-thirty-five, or approximately three percent of the total number of troops. From available information, it seems that early in the war it was not at all remarkable for an individual company to contain no women. This situation had changed by 1783 when the average was two women for each company in the main army. And, as a rule, some organizations, such as Washington’s Life Guard, the Corps of Sappers and Miners, artillery units, and regiments or companies from occupied areas of New York, had greater than average proportions of women.

    Information we have concerning American female followers is particularly interesting when compared to numbers accompanying Crown forces’ regiments. In February 1783, Robert Morris referred to “the british Prisoners of War who have Herds of Women with them.” This comment is borne out by returns of British camp followers throughout the war. In May 1777 the ratio of women with British forces in New York was about one for every eight men, while German units contained approximately one woman for every thirty men. In August 1781 the troops in New York and its outposts were shown to have a ratio of one woman to every four and one-half British troops, and one to fifteen for the Germans.

    Regardless of numbers, the women who followed the Continental Army were important in various ways. Unlike some of their British counterparts, most could not support themselves unless the army sustained them. In their own words they “could earn their Rations, but the Soldier, nay the Officer, for whom they Wash has naught to pay them.” They did, however, perform duties such as washing, and sometimes cooking, for those men to whom they were related or otherwise associated with. As the war progressed these dual duties (most particularly laundering) were increasingly required of them in return for their continued presence with the army. Importantly, besides performing practical tasks, they provided some semblance of home life for the men. This seemingly minor service was extremely important considering that the War for Independence continued for eight years and soldiers fought tedium more often than they did the enemy.

    The best description of a woman of color known to have accompanied the troops is as follows:

[New Jersey Gazette, 28 October 1778]

Fifty Dollars Reward.

Ran away on the evening of the 7th inst. from Trenton ferry, a likely Mulatto slave, named Sarah, but since calls herself Rachael; She took her son with her, a Mulatto boy named Bob, about six years old, has a remarkable fair complexion, with flaxen hair: She is a lusty wench, about 34 years of age, big with child; had on a striped linsey petticoat, linen jacket, flat shoes, a large white cloth cloak, and a blanket, but may change her dress, as she has other cloathes with her. She was lately apprehended in the first Maryland regiment, where she pretends to have a husband, with whom she has been the principal part of this campaign, and passed herself as a free woman. Whoever apprehends said woman and boy, and will secure them in any gaol, so that their master may get them again, shall receive the above reward, by applying to Mr. Blair M’Clenachan, of Philadephia, Capt. Benjamin Brooks, of the third Maryland regiment, at camp, or to Mr. James Sterret, in Baltimore. Mordecai Gist [colonel, 3rd Maryland Regiment].

    Another woman was purported to have gone to the army:

[The Pennsylvania Packet, July 15 1779]

One Hundred Dollars Reward.

RAN AWAY from the subscriber, on the 16th day of June last, a Negro Woman named SUE; she is about thirty years of age, about five feet two or three inches high, is big with child; she is more darkly coloured than a Mulatto, though not so black as Negroes are in general. She wears high caps, and was dressed in a blue and white short gown and petticoat. It is suspected she went to camp with a white woman commonly called Captain Molly, who has a husband in the 4th regiment of Light Dragoons. Whoever apprehends the said Negro woman and secures her that the owner may have her again, shall have the above reward and reasonable charges, paid by     EDWARD HAND”

    In both these cases (if Sue did indeed join the army), we see enslaved women seeking at least temporary refuge by attaching themselves to Continental regiments. At the very least they could count on food and lodging (even if the latter was overnighting underneath a baggage wagon); perhaps, too, the conglomeration of people in and around a military organization would also shelter them from any pursuers seeking to return them to bondage.  

(Photo courtesy of Nastassia Parker)

    John Lines’ wife Judith also spent some time with her husband in the service. Lines enlisted in the 5th Connecticut Regiment in March 1781 for three years; part of his time was spent at West Point and other Hudson Highland posts. By Judith Lines’ own testimony, she married her husband John in 1780. She recalled, ‘the next summer after I married … he sent for me to come to him I think the place was called the Highlands / at that time my … husband was a waiter for Col. Sherman & while at the camp I had the small Pox. I think I staid about 3 or 4 months.’ Peres Tracy deposed that he knew ‘John Lines a black man’ for over forty years. Tracy’s father ‘was acquainted with Lines in the Army … & … for a considerable time during one Campaign Lines wife was with him in Camp & used to work for [Colonel] Sherman and others.’ Mrs. Lines also noted, ‘my sd. husband used to write to me when he was in the Army & I have one of his letters now & which I give to the magistrate who takes this my Deposition it is dated November 11, 1781 & is in the hand writing of … John Lines my husband.’ Appended is a partial transcription of the letter, the only known surviving missive home by a Revolutionary soldier of color, published in full in They Were Good Soldiers

“i take this Opper tuna ty to send to you my deer and loveing wife to let you now that i am well and hopeing these lines may find you and the Children Well  … this is the six letter of [mine] and I haven’t receved one … [I] belong to Carnol [Isaac] Shermans Rg ment Capting [Rice’s] Compy ny  we lay at fishkill now / i should be ver[y] glad if you would … Send me a letter how you have lived this sum mer and [whether?] the house is dun and [whether?] you kill that cow or [whether?] you have got a nother / i want to [k]now all these things very much  i in tend to Come home this winter if I Can but dont [k]now if i can … if I Could se you my self then I Could talk with you my deer wife as I like / i have seen hard times … I have lived a-11-day With Bread [only]  … I re mane your loveing husband un tel death John lines”

(Photo courtesy of Cheyney McKnight)

    Another woman with the army was Hannah Till, an enslaved cook/servant from June 1776 until at least March 1780 in General Washington’s military household. She was married to Isaac Till, also employed with the commander-in-chief. She and Isaac are known to have had seven children: Andrew Till, born circa 1761; John Till, born circa 1765; Sarah Till, born circa 1771; Daniel Till, born between 1775-1795; Philip Till, born 1775-1795; Isaac Worley Till, born 1778, and William Till, born 1780-1790. One son was born at camp in the winter of 1778; the baptismal record, from the 2nd Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia reads, “Isaac Worley Till son to Hannah a free Nigroe woman in full Communion with the Church was born in Gen: Washingtons Camp Valey forge nineteen months ago and baptized in this 4th Sabbath of Augt. 1779.” Isaac’s birth would have occurred in January or February 1778, at which time Hannah was likely about 40 to 45 years of age. Hannah purchased her freedom in December 1778, eight months prior to her son’s baptism

Isaac Worley Till, baptismal record, 2nd Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Isaac Potts house, Gen. George Washington’s headquarters during the Valley Forge winter, December 1777 to June 1778. Hannah Till likely gave birth to her son in or near this house.

    Washington’s wartime financial records, largely compiled for reimbursement of expenses (the trade-off for his refusal to accept payment for his services), are the best source of information on the commander-in-chief’s headquarters household, both supervisors and servants.  

   The appended entries and receipts follow Hannah and Isaac through their wartime service, with occasional mentions of their owners (respectively), Rev. John Mason and John Johnson.

July 15, 1776 – Cash paid Negro Hannah   16 shillings

July 25, 1776 – To Cash paid Negro Hannah   3 pounds – 4 shillings

Aug. 14, 1776 – Cash paid to Negro Isaac’s wife   3 pounds

“If you can pay Isaac two months wages Per to Cloth[e] him self with, give him As much as you think he deserves & you will oblige your humble servt.

John Johnson

To Capt. Gibbs  Aug 28 1776”

Sept. 3, 1776 – To Cash paid Capt. Johnson’s servant Isaac according to his order of Aug. 28 – 2 pounds

Oct. 15, 1776 – To Cash paid Negro Hannah   2 pounds

Oct. 19, 1776 – To Cash paid Servant Isaac   7 [or 9] dollars 3 pounds 12 shillings

Nov. 19, 1776 – To Cash paid Isaac   3 pounds 12 shillings  

Nov. 27, 1776 – To Cash paid Isaac, Servant  3 dollars 1 pound 4 shillings 

Dec. 18, 1776 – Cash paid servant Isaac for what he laid out when at White Plains  15 shillings  

Dec. 28, 1776 – Cash paid Servant Isaac  3 dollars 1 pound 2 shillings 6 pence

Feb. 17, 1777 – To Cash paid Negro Hannah   4 dollars 1 pound  14 shillings

Feb. 17, 1777 – To Cash paid Servant Isaac   16 dollars 6 pounds 

April 20, 1777 – To Cash Mrs. Thompson paid Isaac  5 shillings 4 pence”

April 20, 1777 – To cash paid servant Isaac   16 dollars 6 pounds

“Headquarters Middle Brook 3rd June 1777

Received of Captain Caleb Gibbs forty seven pounds, eighteen shillings New York Currency in full for my Servant Isaac’s wages as Cook to His Excellency General Washington from 1st day of July 1776 to the last day of May 1777 which makes eleven months at the rate of 6 pounds per month.

47 pounds 18 shillings N York Currency    John Johnson

“Headquarters Middle Brook 3rd June 1777

Received of Captain Caleb Gibbs Sixteen Pounds, ten shillings N York Currency in full for behalf of John Mason for his Servant hannah’s wages she being in the service of His Excellency General Washington’s family from the 26th of June 1776 to the 26th of May 1777 making eleven months at 30 shillings per month.

16 pounds 10 shillings N York Currency  In behalf of the Rev. Mr. John Mason of N York

John Johnson

June 3, 1777 – “Capt. Johnson Master to Isaac now living with Gen. Washington is to let Isaac receive 40 shillings per month of his wages – they being [illegible] per month NY Currency.”

June 3, 1777 – “Servant Hannah by the desire of her Master is to have 40 shillings NY Currency per month. The wages to be left in Capt. Gibbs hands till she makes up 53 pounds after which she is to receive her wages herself – & will redeem her freedom.”

Aug 4th 1777 – To cash paid Servant Isaac  15 dollars   5 pounds 12 shillings 6 pence

Sept. 28, 1777 – To cash paid Servant Isaac   2 dollars – 15 shillings

Oct. 2, 1777 – To cash paid Servant Isaac    7 shillings 6 pence

Oct. 10, 1777 – To cash paid Servant Isaac   2 pounds 2 shillings 6 pence

Oct. 13, 1777 – To cash paid Servant Isaac   45 shillings

Feb. 14, 1778 – To cash paid Servant Isaac the cook  20 dollars – 7 pounds 10 shillings  

Oct. 29, 1778 – Servant Hannah for Crockerry  

Oct. 30, 1778 – To cash paid Servant Isaac in full for his part of wages to this day according to agreement   4 pounds 5 shillings 4 pence

“1778 30th October – Left in Major Gibbs hands for my master Mr. John Mason to receive thirty two pounds N. York money & have settled all accounts with the Major. 

Hannah Mason  her mark.”

“1778 30th October – Received of Major Gibbs thirty two pounds in full for my part of wages at 40 shillings per month as was all owed by my master for my clothes & there remains now in Major Gibbs hands Eighty pounds N. York Currency for my master to receive.” (Note: this is attributed to Isaac Till, though no name is given on the receipt.)

“Headquarters Rariton  19th December 1778

Received of Major Gibbs thirty two pounds New York Currency in full for my servant Hannah’s wages who was in the service of His Excellency General Washington.

32 pounds New York Currency equal to 80 dollars   John Mason

“Morristown 23rd June 1780

Received of Major Gibbs eighty six dollars in full for two months wages at His Excellency General Washington’s family.

86 dollars  Hannah Till   her mark”

“Received Bergen County State of New Jersey July 13th 1780 of Major Gibbs one hundred pounds New York currency according to its ancient value in full for the hire of my servant Isaac as a cook to His Excellency General Washington from June 17th 1777 to June 17th 1780.

John Johnson Attest  Richd. Varick”

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Note: John Mason was a Presbyterian minister born in Scotland. In 1761 he was sent by the Associate Synod of Scotland to be pastor of the Scotch Presbyterian Church on Cedar Street in New York City. Rev. Mason was married to Catherine Van Wyck. He died in 1792. (DAB); John Johnson, New York, 2nd lieutenant, 1st New York, July 1775; 1st lieutenant, 24 February 1776; captain, 21 November 1776, which he declined and retired from service, 7 December 1776. (Heitman); “I certify that John Johnson formerly an officer in the Continental army whom I have for a long time known has always sustained the character of an honest man, a good citizen, a firm and zealous friend to the cause of America, a brave officer and as such I recommend him to all whom it may concern. He is hereby permitted to pass and repass where his business may call him. Alx. Hamilton, Aide DeCamp Head Quarters Preakness July 17, 1780″

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    To place Hannah Tills’ service in context, here is an excerpt from a draft article on Revolutionary general officers’ servants, including General Washington’s household:

    Washington needed supervisors for his large household. Ebenezer Austin was the first steward in 1775 until late spring 1776; Mrs. Mary Smith served as housekeeper from mid-April to July 1776; Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson succeeded her in July 1776, serving as housekeeper until the end of the war. Caleb Gibbs, captain of the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, took over the steward’s duties and supervised household activities and expenses from 1776 until he left the Guard in 1781. William Colfax succeeded Gibbs as commander of the Guard, but did not have any other role in the household.

    Likely due to Gibbs’ departure, in summer 1781 the commander-in-chief was trying to find, “a trusty person” to serve as his steward, and asked the Board of War for assistance, stipulating, “A Man who has served with reputation as Butler to a Gentleman[‘s] family, or as principal Waiter and Caterer to a genteel Tavern would answer better than one unused to such offices, as setting out a table ought to be part of his business as well as providing for it.” (Patrick McGuire had served as steward from May 1776 to March 1778.) On August 9, while the allied armies were preparing to march south to Yorktown, the Board replied that it had appointed “Mr. [John] Loveday for Steward.”

    As for servants, modern annotations to George Washington’s expense account (he recorded all his service-related expenditures and was reimbursed after the war), provide names gleaned from those records. Having been given command of the New England army investing Boston, George Washington reached Cambridge on July 2, 1775. A note to the August 5, 1775 account entry states, “A complete list of the names of the servants at Headquarters in 1775 is difficult to give. Those we know were Edward Hunt, a cook; Mrs. Morrison, kitchen-woman; Mary Kettel, washerwoman; Eliza Chapman, Timothy Austin, James Munro, Dinah, a negro woman, and Peter, a negro man; William Lee, Washington’s enslaved body-servant as ‘Billy,’ was there, of course.” A supporting annotation to the September 1 1776 entry is even more expansive, providing some insights into a relatively large retinue:

“The record of servants at Headquarters for the year 1776, while probably not entirely complete, furnishes us with the following names in addition to those mentioned in the preceding year: Patrick McGuire, who came from Philadelphia to act as steward and served from May, 1776, until March, 1778; Hannah [Till], the negro servant of Rev. John Mason; she was to receive 40s. a month which were to be left in the hands of Captain Gibbs until £58 had accumulated, after which she was to receive her wages herself to be applied to the purchase of her freedom; Servant Jack and Sailor Jack [these two appear to be different individuals]; Margaret Thomas, who did sewing in February, 1776, and washing from October, 1776, to February, 1778; Negro James; Stephen Sims; Negroes Lydia, Jenny, Cato, and Isaac [Till, husband of Hannah], the latter a servant of Captain John Johnson, of Bergen county, New Jersey. He was to receive 40s. a month of his wages of £7; he also cooked for Washington from June, 1777, to June, 1780; John and Frank, hostlers; a Mrs. Lake and Peggy. John Whitehead also served at Headquarters from April, 1776, for one year at a wage of $5 per month.”

    The difficulties of running such a large household may be imagined, but Washington provides a few inklings. In one missive to James Mease on April 17, 1778 concerning apparel for the army, he writes, “I hear, by report, of great quantities of Cloathing purchased on continental account in every quarter. But where are they? I cannot get as much cloth as will make Cloaths for my Servants, notwithstanding one of them, that attends my person and Table, is indecently, and most shamefully naked, and my frequent applications to Mr. Kemper [assistant clothier general] (which he says he has as often transmitted to you) in the course of the last two Months.” And during his residence at the Ford house in Morristown, New Jersey the commander-in-chief complained to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene on January 22, “I have been at my prest. quarters since the 1st. day of Decr. and have not a Kitchen to Cook a Dinner in, altho’ the Logs have been put together some considerable time by my own Guard; nor is there a place at this moment in which a servant can lodge with the smallest degree of comfort. Eighteen belonging to my family and all Mrs. Fords are crouded together in her Kitchen and scarce one of them able to speak for the colds they have caught. I have repeatedly taken notice of this inconveniency to Majr. Gibbs, and have as often been told, that boards were not to be had. I acquiesced, and believe you will do me the justice to acknowledge that it never has been my practice to involve the public in any expence I could possibly avoid, or derive benefits which would be inconvenient or prejudicial to others.” He goes on to acknowledge the problems involved, given that his army was building huts to live in at the same time. Eventually, a separate kitchen was constructed for the general’s staff to use.

    In the field General Washington was generally quartered in his mobile headquarters complex, consisting of a sleeping marquee (which also doubled as his office), and larger dining marquee. Even when claiming a local home as headquarters, one or both marquees were still erected, to provide privacy for interviews and correspondence, and to entertain large groups. Most likely Washington also slept under canvas and relegated the house and outbuildings to his staff and servants. The number of servants may have been reduced when the commander-in-chief was on campaign and tasks such as meal preparation made more difficult by weather and other conditions. The financial records indicate that both Hannah and Isaac served at least occasionally with the moving army, serving as cooks in addition to their other tasks.

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For additional information on Washington’s military household see, Research File: George Washington’s Wartime Household, Staff, Food, and EquipmentWashington Papers (Library of Congress), Revolutionary War Accounts Vouchers and Receipted Accounts (Compiled by John U. Rees and Neal T. Hurst), https://www.scribd.com/document/452773583/George-Washington-s-Wartime-Household-Staff-Food-and-Equipment-Washington-Papers-Library-of-Congress-Revolutionary-War-Accounts-Vouchers-and-Rec

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Gen. George Washington’s headquarters tents, reproduced by craftspeople at Colonial Williamsburg, in conjunction with the Museum of the American Revolution. The sleeping marquee is on the left; the large dining marquee to the right. The storage tent (a horseman’s or wall tent) is just visible behind and to the left of the dining marquee.
(Photo courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, Pa.)

Hannah Till’s life was documented by John Fanning Watson, as follows.

“Hannah Till … a black woman whom I saw in March, 1824 … served her seven years … to General Washington and La Fayette, as cook, &c. I saw her in her own small frame house, No. 182, south Fourth street, a little below Pine street [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] … She was born in Kent County, Delaware. Her master, John Brinkly, Esq. sold her at the age of 15 years, when she was brought to Pennsylvania. At 25 years of age she was sold to Parson Henderson, and went with him to Northumberland. At 35 years of age she was sold to Parson Mason, of New York, with whom she dwelt there until the war of the Revolution; she then bought her freedom, and with her husband was hired into General Washington’s military family as cooks – serving with him in all his campaigns for six and a half years, and for half a year she was lent into the service of General La Fayette. With one or the other of these she was present in all the celebrated battles in which they were engaged … I inquired regarding the domestic habits of Washington and others: she said he was very positive in requiring compliance with his orders; but was a moderate and indulgent master. He was sometimes familiar among his equals and guests, and would indulge a moderate laugh. He always had his lady with him in the winter campaigns, and on such occasions, was pleased when freed from mixed company and to be alone in his family. He was moderate in eating and drinking. I asked if she knew that he prayed. She answered that she expected he did, but she did not know that he practiced it … I asked her if he ever swore; she answered, that ideas about religion were not very strict, and that she thought that he did not strictly guard against it in times of high excitements, and that she well remembered that on one provocation with her, he called her c—d [colored] fool. General La Fayette she praised greatly – said he was very handsome, tall, slender, and genteel, having a fair white and red face, with reddish hair – that he spoke English plain enough – was always very kind. Her words were very emphatic: – ‘Truly he was a gentleman to meet and to follow!'”

Watson’s sister visited occasionally with Mrs. Till:

“She says she received from her questions, such answers as these – ‘I well remember the arrival of the specie to pay the French army, for the house was so crowded that day that my pastry room was used to lodge the specie in, even while she still used the room. She continued with Washington till after Andre the spy was hung. On that day she saw many tears shed by our officers.’ General La Fayette called on her with Messrs. [Tench] Tilghman and [Clement or Nicholas] Biddle [in 1825]. To his question, Where was you when General Washington left Morristown? she answered, I remained more than six months with you, Sir, in the same house. He left her, promising to send her money by his son. The sequel was, that her house was embarrassed for arrear groundrents, and she was soon after informed to make herself easy, for La Fayette had cleared it off!”

    At war’s end, Continental Army veterans, both male and female, returned home to a changed and changing nation. Despite the waning of Northern slavery, with the ratification of the 1789 United States Constitution, and boosted by the 1794 cotton gin patent, black bondage was cemented as a political and economic fact, and detrimental racial attitudes hardened before, but more especially after, 1800. Thirty-five years after the war black Revolutionary veterans, along with their white comrades, were eligible for service pensions, but, even in that system, some experienced the effect of increasing bias. When all is said and done, African American military service was a direct challenge to slavery and the racial construct, and an affront to many white citizens. Still, black Americans continued to fight for their nation, as eighty-one-year-old Judith Lines related in 1837, ‘my youngest son died of a wound recd in the last war [War of 1812], his name was Benjamin, the wound was recd. at the Battle of Chippewa [July 5 1814].’

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For the complete article with citations see,

“‘Lately apprehended in the first Maryland regiment …’: African American Women with the Army,” https://www.academia.edu/38515415/_Lately_apprehended_in_the_first_Maryland_regiment_African_American_Women_with_the_Army

This work originally appeared in a much reduced form as an appendix in the the book:
“‘They were good soldiers.’: African Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775-1783” https://tinyurl.com/Helion-Rees (ISBN 9781911628545, 2019)

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For more on Continental Army female followers and Washington’s military household see:

“The Mystery of Hannah Till & Isaac” (Courtesy of Jennifer Bolton and Dave Lawrence)

https://www.academia.edu/42120342/_The_Mystery_of_Hannah_Till_and_Isaac_Courtesy_of_Jennifer_Bolton_and_Dave_Lawrence_

John U. Rees, ‘”The proportion of Women which ought to be allowed…’’: An Overview of Continental Army Female Followers,’ ALHFAM Bulletin (Association of Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums), vol. XXVIII, no. 4 (Winter 1999), pp. 18-21, https://tinyurl.com/women-proportion .

Rees, ‘”The multitude of women”: An Examination of the Numbers of Female Followers with the Continental Army,”’ The Brigade Dispatch (Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution), three parts: vol. XXIII, no. 4 (Autumn 1992), pp. 5-17; vol. XXIV, no. 1 (Winter 1993), pp. 6-16; vol. XXIV, no. 2 (Spring 1993), pp. 2-6 . Reprinted in Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, vol. XIV, no. 2 (Summer 1996), https://tinyurl.com/women-multitude .

Rees, ‘“Spent the winter at Jockey Hollow, and … washed together while there …”: American Revolution Army Women Names Project – Continental Army,’ https://tinyurl.com/names-project .

R. Scott Stephenson, Philip C. Mead, Mark A. Turdo, Matthew Skic, Among His Troops: Washington’s War Tent in a Newly Discovered Watercolor (Philadelphia, Pa.: Museum of the American Revolution, 2019)

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“Left in the Field for dead …”: African American Continental Soldiers at the Battle of Monmouth (Focusing on a Connecticut soldier and a black Rhode Island company in the battle.)

A soldier of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment, Gen. Samuel Parson’s Brigade, 1778. An August 1778 “Return of the Negroes in the Army” shows that shows that Parson’s brigade contained 148 black soldiers, more than any other brigade in Gen. Washington’s army at White Plains, New York.
Artwork by Don Troiani (Courtesy of the artist, www.historicalimagebank.com )

The first work that gave recognition to black and Indian soldiers at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in New Jersey was Richard S. Walling’s, Men of Color at the Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778: The Role of African Americans and Native Americans at Monmouth (Hightstown, N.J.: Longstreet House, 1994). Mr. Walling’s work was incomplete and imperfect (that, of course, is the inevitable fate of any published historic work), but still a much-needed contribution.

(NOTE: For a return dated August 24 1778 showing 755 African American soldiers in fifteen brigades of Washington’s main army (two months after the Monmouth battle) see, https://continentaldevil.wordpress.com/2020/01/12/updated-statistics-for-the-august-1778-return-of-the-negroes-in-the-army-fifteen-brigades-of-gen-george-washingtons-main-army/ and https://continentaldevil.wordpress.com/2020/01/16/many-of-them-have-proved-themselves-brave-more-on-african-american-numbers-and-officers-opinions-of-them-as-soldiers/ )

My intention in writing the book “They Were Good Soldiers”: African Americans Serving in the Continental Army was not to provide a comprehensive list of Revolutionary soldiers of color, but a detailed overview of their services and experiences during and after the war. I knew that post-publication there would be insights and information that would come to light, and I begin this edition of “More ‘Good Soldiers'” with with one of those latecomers.

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(NOTE: My thanks to Timothy Abbott for bringing Benajah Abro’s pension account to my attention.)

By his own testimony Benajah Abro first enlisted “in the spring season of 1776 he thinks the first part of March at Torrington Connecticut … in the company of Capt. Aaron Austin … Colo Charles Burrell [Connecticut State Regiment] … to serve for the term of one year and join the Northern Army in Canada … about the first day of April he mustered at Canaan in … Connecticut and then marched to Canada within about 40 miles of Quebeck to a place called the Three Rivers and from there retreated before the Enemy to Crown Point and at Tija [Ticonderoga] and Mount Independence until discharged … in the month of November on account of his having been sick …”

Abro covered a lot of ground during his 1776 military service, but saw little or no combat. That would change soon into his next enlistment: “… in the month of March 1778 he again enlisted at New Hartford in the … State of Connecticut for during the Revolutionary War and joined the company commanded by Captain Andrew Fitch of Lebanon Connecticut in the [4th] regiment commanded by Colo John Durquee of Norwich Connecticut. He joined the company and regiment with the recruiting officer at Valey Forge in Pennsylvania and at Monmouth Battell which he was in he was wounded and taken to the Hospittell and after that joined the army at the White Plains and had winter quarters he thinks at Redding in Connecticut and he continued and served in the Army to the close of the war, Captain Jonathan Buell was his Captain part of the time her was transferred into the regiment commanded by Colo. Zebulon Butler in the Connecticut Line when he was in Captain Buell’s Company from which company and regiment he was discharged at West Point in June, 1783.”

The Battle of Monmouth Courthouse was fought on June 28, 1778. The campaign began with the Crown forces’ final evacuation of Philadelphia on June 18, with British General Henry Clinton’s army beginning their northeasterly march from the Delaware River across New Jersey, towards New York; that news reached General George Washington the same day and Maj. Gen. Charles Lee’s division, along with Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne’s three-brigade Pennsylvania division, left Valley Forge in pursuit of the British. The remainder of Washington’s army marched out of Valley Forge on the 19th.

Maj. Gen. Charles Lee’s Division consisted of:

Brig. Gen. James Varnum’s Brigade (4th Connecticut, 8th Connecticut, 2nd Rhode Island (including Arnold’s segregated black detachment of the 1st Rhode Island))

Brig. Gen. Enoch Poor’s Brigade (1st New Hampshire, 2nd New Hampshire, 3rd New Hampshire, 2nd New York, 4th New York)

So, we can see that both subjects of this post, Private Benajah Abro, 4th Connecticut Regiment, and Captain Thomas Arnold’s segregated company of black veterans, 1st Rhode Island Regiment, served with Varnum’s brigade of Lee’s division.

The next two maps show the route of Varnum’s brigade on June 28, 1778, from Englishtown to Monmouth Courthouse, and back to the hedgerow/hedge-fence defensive position.

West half of manuscript 1778 map of the Monmouth battlefield, showing the route of Varnum’s brigade, and General Lee’s Advance Force. The original was drawn by Capt. William Gray, 4th Pennsylvania Regiment, and once owned by Col. Richard Butler. Long held (likely since 1863) in the collections of the New-York Historical Society, it lay hidden and was rediscovered in 1998.
East half of manuscript 1778 map of the Monmouth battlefield, showing the route of Varnum’s brigade, and General Lee’s Advance Force. The original was drawn by Capt. William Gray, 4th Pennsylvania Regiment, and once owned by Col. Richard Butler. Long held (likely since 1863) in the collections of the New-York Historical Society, it lay hidden and was rediscovered in 1998.

We will return to Benajah Abro, but now let us look at the Rhode Island company of black soldiers in Varnum’s brigade.

    The Rhode Island regiments were particularly hard-hit during the 1777 campaign, and the state had to consider how to recruit them. James Varnum wrote General Washington in early January 1778:

“The Battalions from the State of Rhode Island being small … The Field Officers have represented to me the Propriety of making one temporary Battalion from the two, so that one entire core of officers may repair to Rhode Island, in order to receive and prepare Recruits for the Field. It is imagined that a Battalion of Negroes can be easily raised there.”

The legislature met in early February and resolved that any ‘negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave in this State may inlist into either of the … two battalions to serve during the continuance of the war …’. It was eventually determined that these recruits would join only the 1st Rhode Island Regiment and that unit would contain only black or Native-American privates, with white commissioned officers, sergeants, and corporals.

Governor Nicholas Cooke noted in late February, ‘The number of slaves in this state is not great, but it is generally thought that three hundred, and upwards, will be enlisted …’. Any slaves accepted received their freedom and their owners were remunerated. Unpopular with many residents, in early May the legislature set a June 10 1778 cut-off date for slave recruiting, though free blacks could continue to enlist.

In all, only 117 bondsmen were purchased by the Rhode Island legislature in 1778. Despite Governor Cooke’s assurances, at best less than 200 African Americans ever joined the 1st Regiment and it was never able to form a full battalion for service with Washington’s main army.

    While the 1st Rhode Island command staff was recruiting in slaves their home state, the regiment’s veteran enlisted personnel remaining at Valley Forge were incorporated into the 2nd Regiment. At the same time, the veteran black soldiers from both regiments were formed into a single segregated company under Captain Thomas Arnold. Arnold’s large company (by spring 1778 numbering 5 officers, 3 sergeants, 4 corporals, 6 musicians, and 60 privates) belonged to the absent 1st Regiment, but while with the main army fielded with Colonel Israel Angell’s 2nd Rhode Island.

When Washington’s forces confronted the British at the June 28 1778 Battle of Monmouth, Captain Arnold’s ‘black’ company marched to Monmouth Courthouse with Varnum’s Brigade in Major General Charles Lee’s Advance Force.

    Early in the action Lee’s troops retreated in the face of superior forces, withdrawing towards Washington’s marching troops. Meeting the main army’s van, General Lee encountered Washington, who placed Lee in charge of an ad hoc holding action. Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Olney, 2nd Rhode Island, described the Rhode Island troops during the hedge-fence defense:

“After retiring something more than a Mile [under Major General Lee] … Gen. Varnum’s brigade was ordered to halt, and form by a cross Fence, to cover two pieces of artillery, which were in Danger of being lost. We there exchanged about ten Rounds, and were then obliged to retire with considerable Loss, but not until the Enemy had out-flanked us, and advanced with charged Bayonets to the Fence by which we had formed. Our Brigade suffered more than any that was engaged: The Loss in our Regiment was Lieutenant [Nathan] Wicks, a Sergeant and 8 Privates killed; Captain Thomas Arnold [1st Rhode Island] and 7 privates wounded, and 4 privates missing. Colonel Durkee [4th Connecticut Regiment] was wounded in both Hands; I had my Horse slightly wounded, and a Button shot from the Knee of my Breeches. The Enemy did not pursue us far in our Retreat; observing our Army formed on the Heights in our Rear …”

    One of Arnold’s men, Richard Rhodes, related in the 19th century, ‘… he is very much crippled in one arm in consequence of a wound received in the battle of Monmouth … he was born in Africa brought to this country and sold as a slave and enlisted in the black Regiment … to obtain his freedom …’.

    Captain Arnold’s leg was amputated as a result of his wound at Monmouth, and Captain Jonathan Wallen took over his company.

“We … exchanged about ten Rounds, and were … obliged to retire with considerable Loss, but not until the Enemy had out-flanked us …”: Capt. Thomas Arnold’s veteran black company, 1st Rhode Island Regiment, at the Battle of Monmouth, June 28 1778.
(Artwork by Peter Dennis (C) Helion and Co.)

Here, then is one rendering of the action of the action at the hedgerow, courtesy of Monmouth Battlefield State Park.

Hedgerow defensive stand, midday, Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, June 28 1778.

And what of Benajah Abro? To my mind, Private Abro likely received his wound during or just after Varnum’s brigade’s stand at the hedgerow defensive line. That contention is based on the experiences of the 4th Connecticut that morning and comments by officers supporting Mr. Abro’s pension application.

In 1817 former captain Lemuel Clift recalled,

“… at the Battle of Monmouth Benajah Abro was a black soldier in the Company under my command … during the action while the American troops were retreating … Abro was wounded in the Neck by a musket ball from the enemy & I then supposed the wound to be mortal & he was left on the grond. We afterwards occupied the same ground on which Abro was shot & found him alive & he was sent to the Hospital & recovered …”

Here is a section of William Gray’s Monmouth battle map, with my additions showing the British attack on the hedgerow line, the American retreat across Spotswood Middle Brook towards Perrine Ridge, and a suppositional X marking the area where Abro may have fallen wounded.

Section of manuscript 1778 map of the Monmouth battlefield showing the Hedgerow defensive line. X marks the area where Benajah Abro may have been wounded during the American withdrawal The letter A show the position of the Continental artillery on the left of the American line. The original was drawn by Capt. William Gray, 4th Pennsylvania Regiment, and once owned by Col. Richard Butler. Long held (likely since 1863) in the collections of the New-York Historical Society

Benajah Abro’s Compiled Service Records (National Archives) show he lay “Wounded at Princeton Hospital” until at least August 4 1778.

Former captain Andrew Fitch added that after his hospital stay, Abro, “joined his Company and Regiment and was able to do his duty tolerably well, tho’ always complained of his Neck being stiff …”

Timothy Abbott notes of Abro’s post-war life, “He may have been from Torrington CT originally. He was mentioned in a vote in Winchester CT in 1781 as a serving Continental soldier; in 1785 was a taxpayer in that town and 1788 the town recorded that his tax was given up as uncollectable. He subsequently moved to Canaan and was there by 1797.”

Here are a few sources for further information on Varnum’s brigade and the Battle of Monmouth:

“`None of you know the hardships of A soldiers life …’: Service of the Connecticut Regiments in Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall’s Division, 1777-1778”  http://www.scribd.com/doc/111086856/YZ-List-Connecticut-Division-1777-79-Narrative-New-Longer and http://www.scribd.com/doc/111086939/YZ-List-Connecticut-Division-1777-79-Bibliography-New

Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone, Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle (Norman, Ok.: Oklahoma University Press, 2016)

“’Reach Coryels ferry. Encamp on the Pennsylvania side.’: The March from Valley Forge to Monmouth Courthouse, 18 to 28 June 1778” http://www.scribd.com/doc/133301501/“Reach-Coryels-ferry-Encamp-on-the-Pennsylvania-side-”-The-March-from-Valley-Forge-to-Monmouth-Courthouse-18-to-28-June-1778

Endnotes:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/133293312/Endnotes-“Reach-Coryels-ferry-Encamp-on-the-Pennsylvania-side-”-The-March-from-Valley-Forge-to-Monmouth-Courthouse-18-to-28-June-1778

_________________________

“’A Detatchment of 1500 Pick’d men was taken to Day from the army …’: Troop Formations Detached from Washington’s Army Prior to the Battle of Monmouth, June 1778 (Most of which formed the Advance Force commanded by Maj. Gen. Charles Lee)”https://www.scribd.com/document/125408707/A-Detatchment-of-1500-Pick-d-men-was-taken-to-Day-from-the-army-Troop-Formations-Detached-from-Washington-s-Army-Prior-to-the-Battle-of-Monmouth

“`What is this you have been about to day?’: The New Jersey Brigade at the Battle of Monmouth,” http://revwar75.com/library/rees/monmouth/MonmouthToc.htm

Narrative: http://revwar75.com/library/rees/monmouth/Monmouth.htm#1

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Roster of African American Veterans Featured in the Book, ‘They Were Good Soldiers’: African–Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775–1783

The grandson of slaves, free black Pennsylvanian James Forten was a drummer and powder-boy aboard the privateer “Royal Lewis” commanded by Stephen Decatur, Senior.

    This list (see appended link) was originally proposed for one of the appendices in “They Were Good Soldiers,” but my editor cited it as being redundant and nixed using it. He was, of course, correct, and did not object to my replacing it with a study of African Americans in the Virginia Chesterfield Supplement, a roster and descriptive list of men drafted in 1780.

    My reason for wishing to publish this list of veterans was that I thought it proper to state their identification as soldiers of color (not always apparent in the narrative). One of the factors that led me to that wish was that while some of those soldiers had monikers commonly associated with African Americans (Cato, Pomp, Prince, Sampson, and Scipio, to name a few), most of their names were indistinguishable from their white comrades. My remedy in “They Were Good Soldiers” was to include the veteran’s color identification in the related footnote, unless that information was already given in the narrative.

    I still thought it may be useful to have a comprehensive all-in-one list of the veterans and army followers included in the book. In any event, here it is, totaling 193 men, 3 women, and 1 child:

African American Veterans Featured in the Narrative of:

They Were Good Soldiers’: African–Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775–1783 https://www.scribd.com/document/444807314/African-American-Veterans-Featured-in-the-Narrative-of-They-Were-Good-Soldiers

The above link will lead you to the comprehensive list of those included in “They Were Good Soldiers,” but here we will discuss a few veterans from that roster.

First, James Forten, whose portrait graces the beginning of this post. In the book I do not cover Forten’s story in depth, partly because he was not in the Continental army or navy, but also due to the fact he did not leave a pension narrative. Here is my discussion of Mr. Forten, basically included as an introduction to other soldiers pension accounts:

The grandson of slaves, free black Pennsylvanian James Forten was a drummer and powder-boy aboard the privateer Royal Lewis commanded by Stephen Decatur, Senior. After capturing a British brig-of-war on their first cruise, the frigate Amphion forced Decatur’s ship to surrender and the crew became prisoners. Forten survived this ordeal and returned to the Philadelphia sail loft he worked at prior to the war, eventually being promoted to foreman. When the loft’s owner Robert Bridges retired in 1798 he wished that Forten retain his position. Mr. Forten soon owned the business outright, at one point employed almost 40 workers, and went on to become prominent in local and national politics, as well as in the abolitionist movement. Forten’s military experience was not unique, though his post-war career was, and because of that success he never applied for a pension. Most of his fellow old soldiers and seamen were not so fortunate, and their pension accounts provide insights into their later lives.

This photograph, a “circa 1840 sixth plate daguerreotype,” is also thought to be James Forten; it was included in a 2015 special exhibit titled “Many Thousand Gone” at Vermont’s Middlebury Museum. (See link below.)

http://museum.middlebury.edu/exhibitions/upcoming/node/1344

“This circa 1840 sixth plate daguerreotype is thought to be James Forten (1766-1842).

A fourth woman, known only as Sue, did not make it into “They Were Good Soldiers” as she was discovered by Cat Schirf after publication. Here is the newspaper notice that described her:

One Hundred Dollars Reward.

Ran away from the subscriber, on the 26th day of June last, a Negro Woman names Sue; she is about thirty years of age, about five feet two or three inches high, is big with child she is more darkly coloured than a Mulatto, though not so black as Negroes are in general. She wears high caps, and was dressed in a blue and white short gown and petticoat. It is suspected she went to camp with a white woman commonly called Captain Molly, who has a husband in the 4th regiment of Light Dragoons. Whoever apprehends the said Negro woman and secures her so that the owner may have her again, shall have the above reward and reasonable charges, paid by       Edward Hand [brigadier general, Continental Army]”

The Pennsylvania Packet, 15 July 1779

Although clothing in the appended image is not based on Sue’s described apparel, Cheyney McKnight nicely brings to life a woman of color in late-eighteenth century America.

Photo courtesy of Cheyney McKnight, historical interpreter.

Finally, we will look at Primus Hall (also called Primus Trask), whose wartime experiences ranged from the Boston siege to Saratoga, and ending after the success at Yorktown, Virginia. Hall stated in 1832,

“he … was born in the City of Boston on the twenty ninth day of February Anno Domini 1756 in the family of David Walker in Beacon Street in said Boston, and at the a[ge] of one month old was given to Mr Ezra Trask of Beverly in the Cou[nty] of Essex who subsequently removed to the town of Danvers … in whose family he continued to live until the commencement of the revolutionary War, and that forepart of the month of January in [the] year … [1776] he … enlisted in the town of Cambridge … as a soldier in the army of the Revolution for the term of one year in a company commanded by Capt Joseph Butler of Concord … of the fifth Massachusetts Regiment commanded by Colo [John] Nixon. The Majors name was Scammell. The name of the Lieutenant was Silas Walker, and Ensign Potter, Gad Smit[h?] and Wheeler were Sergeants … [he] served the full period of one year … During [his] service … he was at the following stations and in [the] following battles to wit, First at Winter Hill near Boston, the winter of 1776, where were also stationed on said Hill and the vicinity of the same several Regiments to wit, Colonel Hite[’s], Colonel [John] Glover’s, Colonel [John] Stark’s, [John] Graton’s and others … after the British troops evacuated that City [7] March 1776 … he marched to New York with the Army, and was stationed in the Bowery and was employed for some time in erecting Fortifications near Byards Hill. About [that] time Colonel Nixon was … promoted to a Brigadier General and his brother, [Thomas] Nixon who was Lieutenant Colonel assumed [the] command of the said fifth Regiment. After this period he was [stationed] on Governor’s Island in the harbour of New York, but was [ob]liged to evacuate the same, when the British took possession of [the] Island. He distinctly remembers that Major Walcott was Bearer of a flagg of truce demanding the surrender of the place [w]hich demand was disregarded and a cannonade commenced – that two of the Vessels of the enemy came beating up the narrows and that by General Washington’s orders they were taken off the Island and in passing over to New York the Cockswain was killed by a chain shott fired from the Asia Man of War belonging to the enemy. Said Primas was after this stationed at the grand Battery in New York, but soon joined the Maine Army at Rattle-[sn]ake hills, and there had an action. After the engagement retreated [to] Harlem Heights and there had a skirmish [16 September 1776] – thence to Miles [Sq]uare and had another skirmish – thence to White Plains, and there had a Battle [28 October] – thence crossed the Hudson River at Kings Ferry, and marched into New Jersey, and was under General [Charles] Lee at the time that General was surprised at Basking Ridge and taken prisoner [13 December]. Then General [John] Sullivan took command, and marched the troops to Pennsylvania, to a place called Bristol and after remaining at Bristol a few days recrossed the Delaware, and attacked the Hessians at Trenton & Burlington and took them prisoners [26 December], the Regiment to which said Primas belonged being station[ed] at the former place when his term of service of one year expired, but [a]t the earnest request of General Washington he volunteered for the further term of six weeks, and during said service he was at the taking of Princetown [3 January 1777], and soon thereafter marched to Morristown in New Jersey and there received an honorable discharge from the Army signed by General Washington and returned home to Danvers in the Spring of 1777.”

That was the end of Hall’s service as a Continental soldier, but his military experience continued:

“… he again enlisted in the fall of the 1777 in the town of Danvers for three months, into a Militia Company commanded by Capt. Samuel Flint of said town and Lieutenant Herrick of Beverly and Colonel Johnson of Andover, and marched to Saratoga to join the Army under General [Horatio] Gates, who w[as t]hen acting against General [John] Burgoyne; that he was in the second engagement between the two armies when the Hessian Brigade was together with eight pieces of British Artillery – that he distinct[ly] recollects the death of Captain Flint who together with L[ieutenant] Herrick [possibly Joseph Herrick] were both killed in said Battle. [T]hat he was standing near his Captain when he received his mortal wound, and caught him in his arms to prevent his falling, but on observing that [he] bled profusely set him down against a tree when he expired immediately. This battle was fought in October 1777 … After the surrender of Burgoyne he with the Regiment marched to Albany crossed the river at that place to Greenbush, continued down the Hudson River on the east side till they arrived at a place called East Chester on the shore of Long Island Sound, when his term of thr[ee] months service expired, and he was a second time discharged, again returned to the town of Darien. He further testifies that in the year [1778] … he enlisted at Danvers for a further period of three months under Capt Woodbu[ry] of Cape Ann … and … marched with the company to Rhode Island, and was stationed on the North part of said Island oppo[site] Tiverton, and was employed in building a Fort and keeping [edge of page worn] until his term had again expired and he was a third time disc[harged] from service. The French Fleet and Army under Count Rocham[beau] were at Rhode Island [landed 11 July 1780], the French troops being stationed on land above New Port on said Island at the time of his last tour … himself with another coloured man by the name of Manual were detached from Captain Woodbury’s company and p[er]formed service with the French Corps of Sappers & Miners, and that the time he performed military duty in the three foregoing tours was nineteen months and a half.”

Hall closed out the war serving with the army’s quartermaster general:

“He further testifies that in the years 1781 and 1782 he served twenty two months as Steward to and under Colonel Timothy Pickering of the United States Quarter Master department, and was with that Officer at Verplan[cks] Point [Westchesterr County, New York], Philadelphia, Baltimore & other places, and was at Yorktown at the time that place surrendered to the American Army, un[der] General Washington & the French forces [19 October 1781], and went into [the] British Garrison in said town with Colonel Pickering and there assis him in taking an account of the enemy’s specie deposited in the milita[ry] chests … after the troops marched to the norther[?] and were stationed at or near a place called Rattle snake hill near Newburg in the State of New York he received a final discharge from the Army and in the month of December 1772 [1782] he returned home to Danvers Massachusetts. He further testifies that while serving as Steward in the army … at a place called Dumfries in the state of Virginia his pocket book was stolen from him containing his several discharges from [the] Army and he has not to this day heard any thing of them, and [th]at he has also lost his last discharge.”

In closing, to access the complete list of the veterans and army followers included in the book, totaling 193 men, 3 women, and 1 child, see the link below:

African American Veterans Featured in the Narrative of:

They Were Good Soldiers’: African–Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775–1783 https://www.scribd.com/document/444807314/African-American-Veterans-Featured-in-the-Narrative-of-They-Were-Good-Soldiers

Henley’s Additional Regiment (Mass. and N.H.), 1779
(Image courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, Pa.)

   

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Analysis: William Ranney’s Painting “Battle of Cowpens” and Black Cavalry Soldiers.

‘Battle of Cowpens,’ William Ranney
(South Carolina State House collection)

This 1845 painting (at the South Carolina State House) by William Ranney shows Col. William Washington, 3d Continental Light Dragoons, being saved at the Battle of Cowpens by one of his men, here pictured as a bugler. Two nineteenth century accounts referred to him as a “boy” and waiter.  In actuality none of the descriptions note the trooper as being black, though later accounts say he was an African-American named William Collin or Collins (see Bobby G. Moss and Michael C Scoggins, African-American Patriots in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution (Blacksburg, S.C.: Scotia-Hibernia Press, 2004), 62-63. Maryland Col. John Eager Howard witnessed the incident and recounted it to William Johnson in 1822:  “The three advanced a breast and one of them aimed a blow the effect of which was prevented by Sergeant Perry who coming up at the instant disabled this officer. On the other side another had his sword raised when the boy came up and with a discharge of his pistol disabled him. The one in center who it is believed was Tarleton himself made a lunge which Washington parried & perhaps broke his sword. Two of the three being thus disabled the third then wheeled off and retreated ten or twelve paces when he again wheeled, about & fired his pistol which wounded Washington’s horse – By this time Washington’s men had got up and & Tarleton’s horse moved off at a quick step. Thus, the affair ended. Washington had given orders not to fire a pistol and when the boy was questioned for disobeying the order he said he was obliged to do it to save the life of his Colonel. The excuse was admitted.” (Quoted letter from Daniel Murphy, “The Cavalry at Cowpens: Thinking Inside the Box,” http://www.schistory.net/3CLD/Articles/insidethebox.pdf    Source: John Eager Howard to William Johnson, 1822. (Courtesy of Dr. Lawrence Babits and Sam Fore.) See also John Eager Howard, Letters to John Marshall, 1804, excerpts held at the Cowpens National Battlefield, courtesy of the Army Command and General Staff College. Original held in the Bayard collection, Maryland Historical Society.)

     John Marshall, an officer in the Virginia Continental line from 1776 to early 1781, and later Chief Justice of the Supreme of the United States, corresponded with John Eager Howard, and wrote this account in his Life of Washington: “In the eagerness of pursuit, Washington advanced near thirty yards in front of his regiment. Three British officers, observing this, wheeled about, and made a charge upon him. The officer on his right aimed a blow to cut him down as an American sergeant came up, who intercepted the blow by disabling his sword arm. The officer on his left was about to make a stroke at him at the same instant, when a waiter, too small to wield a sword, saved him by wounding the officer with a ball from a pistol. At this moment, the officer in the centre, who was believed to be Tarlton, made a thrust at him which he parried; upon which the officer retreated a few paces, and then discharged a pistol at him, which wounded his horse.” The story behind Ranney’s “Battle of Cowpens” is discussed online at several sites, often with some misinformation. The National Park Service web post “Unsung Patriots: African-Americans at the Battle of Cowpens” is one the better examples, stating that the “William Ranney painting shows the famous William Washington-Banastre Tarleton sword fight in which Washington’s servant rode up, fired his pistol at a British officer, and saved Washington’s life. Since most waiters were African-American, Ranney painted him as such. Apparently the servant did not file a pension, and Washington did not leave behind written papers of his own role or of anyone else’s role in the American Revolution. Therefore, the National Park Service cannot document his complete role in the battle and even his name (most likely either Ball/Collins/Collin).” The only detail to question is the contention that “most waiters were African-American.” While this claim may be true for southern units, officers’ waiters in regiments from the middle states and New England were just as likely to be white. (See discussion of officers’ waiters further on in this monograph. See also, http://www.nps.gov/cowp/forteachers/unit-7-the-battle-the-human-element.htm )

    Other African-Americans served with light horse units, but to date only a few have been identified. Some, like John Banks (head of a household of “Free Colored Persons.”) and Reuben Bird (“a mulatto boy“) of the 1st Continental Light Dragoons (Pensions W5763 and S37776), were non-combatant waiters, while others did indeed serve as troopers. Michael C. Scoggins writes of seven black South Carolinians who enlisted with that state’s 3d Regiment on the Continental establishment. The 3d South Carolina was a dragoon regiment in the strictest definition of the term, in that they were intended to operate as mounted infantry. Mr. Scoggins notes, “Drury Harris and Edward Harris and several of their neighbors: the brothers Gideon Griffin and Morgan Griffin and the brothers Allen Jeffers, Berry Jeffers and Osborne Jeffers. These men all enlisted in the Third South Carolina Continental Regiment (also known as Thomson’s Rangers) in 1778 and participated in several important engagements, including the Battle of Stono Ferry near Charleston, South Carolina in June 1779 and the unsuccessful attack on British-held Savannah, Georgia in October 1779. In May 1780 they were stationed at Charleston when the British army and navy captured the city and the American troops defending it. With the exception of Osborne Jeffers, who was killed in the battle for Charleston, these men were all taken prisoner by the British and held as prisoners-of-war on the islands off the coast of Charleston until January 1781, when they were either paroled or exchanged for British soldiers held by the American army. In the spring of 1781 all but one of these soldiers reenlisted in the newly raised regiments of state troops organized by Brigadier General Thomas Sumter, and served enlistments of ten months as state dragoons or cavalrymen, during which time they participated in several additional military actions including the Battle of Eutaw Springs in September 1781.” (Michael C. Scoggins, “’Voluntarily Enlisted as a Soldier in the Revolution’: A Case Study of Free African-Americans in the South Carolina Continental and State Troops during the Revolutionary War” (Unpublished research paper, Southern Revolutionary War Institute, York, SC, February 2015)).

Private, 1st Continental Light Dragoon Regiment, 1780-1781
Artwork by Don Troiani (Courtesy of the artist, http://www.historicalimagebank.com)
 
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“Many of them have Proved themselves brave …” More on African American Numbers, and Officers’ Opinions of Them as Soldiers

“… by themselves soldiers of color [on the August 1778 return] would form two understrength regiments, each equal to, or larger in size than, most other serving Continental regiments.

Henley’s Additional Regiment
(Courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, Pa.)
 
Here we have a modern image of a single company of Henley’s Additional Regiment in 1779. It is a good representation of how many Continental companies would have appeared, with some having a few more black soldiers and others none at all.

This post is a follow-up to

Updated Statistics for the August 1778 “Return of the Negroes in the Army” (Fifteen brigades of Gen. George Washington’s main army)

Posted on January 12, 2020

In 1778 a tally was made of the number of black soldiers in fifteen brigades of General George Washington’s main army. There were 755 African Americans in a force totaling 17,891 rank and file (sergeants, corporals, music, and private soldiers), making them 4.2 percent of the whole.

While the proportion may seem small, by themselves soldiers of color would form two understrength regiments, each equal to, or larger in size than, most other serving Continental regiments.

Here are the six brigades reporting the highest proportions of black soldiers on the 1778 return:

•           Parsons’ (Connecticut), 9.3 % of rank and file
•           Muhlenberg’s (Virginia), 8.5 % of rank and file
•           North Carolina, 6.5 % of rank and file
•           Patterson’s (Massachusetts), 6.3 % of rank and file
•           Huntingdon (Connecticut), 5.5 % of rank and file
•           Smallwood (Maryland), 5.0 % of rank and file

Using those numbers, we can calculate the average number of black soldiers per regiment within each brigade. Here are the five brigades with the highest numbers:

Parsons’ Connecticut (3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th Regts.)
average of 37 black soldiers per regiment
North Carolina (1st and 2nd Regts.)
average of 29 black soldiers per regiment
Patterson’s Massachusetts (10th, 11th, 12th, 14th Regts.)
average of 22.25 black soldiers per regiment
Muhlenberg’s Virginia (1st/5th/9th, 14th Regts., Grayson’s Additional, and 1st & 2nd State Regts.) 
average of 19.5 black soldiers per regiment or battalion
Huntington’s Connecticut (1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th Regts.)
average of 15.5 black soldiers per regiment

Not included in the August 1778 return were the New Jersey and Rhode Island Continentals. The number of blacks serving in New Jersey’s four Continental regiments is uncertain, but likely no more than 20. Rhode Island had just reconstituted one of its regiments (the 1st), filling it with African American and Indian private soldiers, mostly former slaves. In August 1778 that unit contained 146 privates. Adding those men would bring the total (approximate) number of African American soldiers that month to 915. 

Other considerations magnify the numbers and the socio-political impact of black Continental soldiers, one being the equation of military service with citizenship, a concept that continued into the mid-19th century. More importantly foreign observers and others likely considered African Americans serving alongside white soldiers as a radical Revolutionary statement, almost on a par with the declaring independence and taking up arms against the King. It may have been an unintentional, and to some unwelcome, political statement, but it was just as powerful as the purposeful, and similarly pragmatic, arming of blacks during the 1860s American Civil War.

What did American and French officers think of black American soldiers?

Some were derogatory. In June 1776 Pennsylvania Captain Alexander Graydon generally described New England regiments as ‘miserably constituted bands’ of soldiers, but complimented Colonel Glover’s Massachusetts Regiment as ‘the only exception …’. Graydon continued, ‘even in this regiment there were a number of negroes, which, to persons unaccustomed to such associations, had a disagreeable, degrading effect’. In July 1777 General Philip Schuyler asked General William Heath, ‘Is it consistent with the Sons of Freedom to trust their all to be defended by slaves?’ That opinion is nicely juxtaposed with the situation of New Hampshire Captain William Whipple’s slave Prince, a veteran of the 1776 Delaware River crossing, who replied to his master’s questioning of his sad mood, ‘you are going to fight for your freedom, but I have none to fight for’. Having no answer, Whipple freed him. In a similar manner, in 1778 Rhode Island slaves, African and Native American, were manumitted in return for military service.

In response to John Adams’ October 1775 question about black soldiers in the Massachusetts regiments (Adams called them “unsuitable for the service”), General William Heath replied,

“There are in the Massachusetts Regiments Some few Lads and Old men, and in Several Regiments, Some Negroes … But the Troops of our Colony are Robust, Agile, and as fine Fellows in General as I ever would wish to see in the Field.”

General John Thomas was more emphatic,

In “The Regiments at Roxbury, the Privates are Equal to any that I Served with Last war, very few Old men, and in the Ranks very few boys … we have Some Negros, but I Look on them in General Equally Servicable with other men, for Fatigue and in Action; many of them have Proved themselves brave …”

Foreign officers were also complimentary. 

In December 1777 a German officer wrote of the American Revolutionary forces,

‘The negro can take the field in his master’s place; hence you never see a regiment in which there are not a lot of negroes, and there are well–built, strong, husky fellows among them’.

    And Baron Ludwig von Closen, aide–de–camp to French General Rochambeau, wrote in July 1781:

“I had a chance to see the American Army, man for man. It is really painful to see those brave men, almost naked with only some trousers and little linen jackets, most of them without stockings, but, would you believe it, very cheerful and healthy in appearance … It is incredible that soldiers composed of men of every age, even children of fifteen, of whites and blacks, unpaid and rather poorly fed, can march so fast and withstand fire so steadfastly’.”

As for numbers, Closen claimed, ‘A quarter of [Washington’s army] were negroes, merry, confident, and sturdy’. (A sidenote: While Closen’s claim of black soldiers forming twenty-five percent of the American is likely exaggerated, it is very likely their numbers did increase in the war’s later years. It is reasonable to estimate that by 1781 soldiers of color made up as much as 10 percent of General George Washington’s main army.)

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“They Were Good Soldiers”: A Belated Introduction to My New Online Endeavor

A soldier of Lt. Col. Thomas Gaskin’s Virginia Battalion, during the unit’s summer and autumn 1781 service with the Marquis de Lafayette against Maj. Gen. Charles Earl Cornwallis’s forces. Like the two Virginia Continental regiments commanded by Colonels John Green and Samuel Hawes, and fighting under Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, Gaskins’ unit contained a number of African Americans. Five of Gaskins’ African American soldiers, five black veterans’ pension narratives show service under Gaskin in 1781, Francis Bundy, John Chavers, William Jackson, Bennett McKey, and William Wedgbare, applied for Federal veterans’ pensions.
Artwork by Don Troiani (Courtesy of the artist, www.historicalimagebank.com)

“Despite the inclusion and acceptance of African Americans in the ranks and little to no indication of animus from white soldiers, black Continentals were generally allowed only to serve as musicians or privates and may have been channeled into such roles as waiter or laborer more often than their white comrades. That said, black musket-bearing soldiers fought in every major battle of the war, and in most, if not all of the lesser actions.” John U. Rees

_______________________

My first book “They Were Good Soldiers” was published in 2019 by Helion and Company. It was based on a long-held interest, two articles I wrote on the subject, and newly gathered research.

As a result of insights gained from preparing post-publication presentations, as well as audience questions and comments, material necessarily excluded from the book, and new research by myself and others, I thought it would be useful to create a blog to share as much as possible.

Research contributions and/or suggestions are certainly welcome. My intent is to find others interested in African Americans’ experiences during our founding war and afterwards, as they and the fledgling nation struggled to survive and make real the ideals of the American Revolution.

If you have questions, suggestions, or contributions, please contact me at ju_rees@msn.com

John Rees

____________________

John U. Rees, World of the Common Soldier

Author’s Articles, https://www.scribd.com/document/436713206/Author-s-Articles-Only-John-U-Rees-World-of-the-Common-Soldier

John Rees has written over 150 articles and monographs since 1990 on various aspects of the common soldiers’ experience, focusing primarily on the War for Independence. Current works and interests include soldiers’ food (1755 to the present day), female army followers in the American War (1775-1783), Continental Army conscription (1777-1782), and officers and enlisted men’s campaign equipage, 1775-1783.

John’s work has appeared in the ALHFAM Bulletin (Association of Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums), American Revolution (Magazine of the American Revolution Association), The Brigade Dispatch (Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution), The Continental Soldier (Journal of the Continental Line), Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and CultureJournal of the Johannes Schwalm Historical AssociationMilitary Collector & HistorianMinerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the MilitaryMuzzleloader MagazineOn Point: The Newsletter of the Army Historical FoundationPercussive Notes (Journal of the Percussive Arts Society), and Repast (Quarterly Publication of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor). He was a regular columnist for the quarterly newsletter Food History News for 15 years writing on soldiers’ food, wrote four entries for the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, thirteen entries for the revised Thomson Gale edition of Boatner’s Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, contributed a chapter to Carol Karels’ The Revolutionary War in Bergen County (2007), and two chapters to Barbara Z. Marchant’s Revolutionary Bergen County, The Road to Independence (2009).

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Updated Statistics for the August 1778 “Return of the Negroes in the Army” (Fifteen brigades of Gen. George Washington’s main army)

In the book “Good Soldiers” I include the August 1778 “Return of the Negroes in the Army” and the proportions of black soldiers (via percentages) in each of the fifteen brigades and for the entire force. The return includes those men sick present, but leaves out soldiers who were sick absent. The revised African American percentages reflecting brigade strengths without the sick absent men is given in the book below the transcribed army return, but I thought it most useful to share the “Return of … Negroes” as it should be interpreted.

Manpower Analysis August 1778[A1] [jr2] [jr3] 

BrigadesPresentSick   PresentOn CommandTotal% of Brigade Rank and File StrengthNotes
North Carolina42106586.5
Woodford3631404.0Virginia
Muhlenberg64268988.5Virginia
Scott2031242.05 Regts. Virginia; 1 Regt. Delaware
Smallwood43152605.0Maryland
2nd Maryland3311352.33 Regts. Maryland; German Regt.
Wayne20020.18Pennsylvania
2nd Pennsylvania00000
Clinton3324393.4New York
Parsons11712191489.3Connecticut
Huntington5624625.5Connecticut
Nixon2601272.0Mass., including 1 militia levy regt.
Patterson641312896.3Massachusetts
Late Learned3448464.3Massachusetts
Poor1674272.33 Regts. New Hampshire; 2nd Canadian Regt.
Total58698717554.2

Total Army Rank and File Strength: 17,981

755 black private soldiers by themselves would make 2 understrength regiments, equal to or larger in size as most other serving Continental regiments.


[jr1] [jr2] 

Brigades% of Brigade Rank and File StrengthNotes  
North Carolina6.5   
Woodford4.0Virginia  
Muhlenberg8.5Virginia  
Scott2.05 Regts. Virginia; plus Delaware Regiment Virginia  
Smallwood5.0Maryland  
2nd Maryland2.3  3 Regts. Maryland; plus German Regt.  
  Wayne0.18Pennsylvania  
2nd Pennsylvania0   
Clinton3.4New York  
Parsons9.3Connecticut  
Huntington5.5Connecticut  
    Nixon2.0Mass., including 1 levy regt.  
Patterson6.3Massachusetts  
Late Learned4.3Massachusetts  
      Poor2.33 Regts. New Hampshire; plus 2nd Canadian Regt.  
Total4.215 Brigades  

Total Army Rank and File Strength (15 brigades): 17,981


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Hello world!

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John U. Rees, World of the Common Soldier

Author’s Articles, https://www.scribd.com/document/436713206/Author-s-Articles-Only-John-U-Rees-World-of-the-Common-Soldier

John Rees has written over 150 articles and monographs since 1990 on various aspects of the common soldiers’ experience, focusing primarily on the War for Independence. Current works and interests include soldiers’ food (1755 to the present day), female army followers in the American War (1775-1783), Continental Army conscription (1777-1782), and officers and enlisted men’s campaign equipage, 1775-1783.

John’s work has appeared in the ALHFAM Bulletin (Association of Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums), American Revolution (Magazine of the American Revolution Association), The Brigade Dispatch (Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution), The Continental Soldier (Journal of the Continental Line), Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and CultureJournal of the Johannes Schwalm Historical AssociationMilitary Collector & HistorianMinerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the MilitaryMuzzleloader MagazineOn Point: The Newsletter of the Army Historical FoundationPercussive Notes (Journal of the Percussive Arts Society), and Repast (Quarterly Publication of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor). He was a regular columnist for the quarterly newsletter Food History News for 15 years writing on soldiers’ food, wrote four entries for the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, thirteen entries for the revised Thomson Gale edition of Boatner’s Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, contributed a chapter to Carol Karels’ The Revolutionary War in Bergen County (2007), and two chapters to Barbara Z. Marchant’s Revolutionary Bergen County, The Road to Independence (2009).

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