Revolutionary Colored Troops

Many people don’t realize the there were African-Americans or Colored Troops serving since the American Revolutionary War. Free blacks in the North and South fought on both sides of the Revolution; slaves were recruited to weaken those masters who supported the opposing cause. Most blacks fought on the patriot side; with about 9000 black Patriot soldiers, counting the Continental Army and Navy, and state militia units, as well as privateers, wagoneers in the Army, servants to officers, and spies. Approximately 5,000 were actual combat troops.

Two of the many who did serve include Peter Salem and Salem Poor. Peter Salem born October 1, 1750 was an African American from Massachusetts who served as a soldier. He was born into slavery but at the time of the war, his master freed Peter so he could serve in the Army. He eventually served five years in many battles. After the war, he married by September 1783 and worked as a cane weaver in Massachusetts. Peter died August 16, 1816. Even more unusual he was buried in the Old Burying Ground in Framingham, and the town spent $150 to belatedly erect a monument in his memory in 1882.  

Then there was Salem Poor, born 1747 who was an African-American slave who purchased his freedom, became a soldier, and rose to fame as a war hero. Born into slavery and owned by the Poor family in Massachusetts, he managed to earn enough money and he bought his freedom on July 10, 1769. In May 1775 he joined the Massachusetts militia, serving in several major battles. Salem was among the 500 black sharpshooters in the Continental Army who spent the legendary frozen winter of 1777–78 with General George Washington in his Valley Forge encampment. He served until March 1780. Life afterward was rough for Salem especially going through 4 marriages. He died 1801. In 1975 he would be honored with a special US postal stamp in his honor.  

These two examples and demonstration of the number of black soldiers in the America Revolution should provide all family history researchers some new ‘food for thought’, one of their ancestors may have been part of those 9,000 black troops.

Photos: Various American soldiers in 1778; Peter Salem portrait and Stamp in 1975 for Salem Poor.

Related Blogs:

African-Americans in Photos

Resources for Searching African-American Ancestors

Documents on African-Americans

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