Black Patriot

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Speculative 19th-century portrait of Crispus Attucks, the black American Patriot martyr of the 1770 Boston Massacre

A Black Patriot was an African American who sided with the colonists who opposed British rule during the American Revolutionary War. The term Black Patriots includes, but is not limited to, the 5,000 or more African Americans who fought in the Continental Army during the war.[1]

This was in contrast to Black Loyalists, African Americans who sided with the British forces. Many families escaped indentured servitude to take up the British offer of freedom for service, making their way to British lines and territory for safety.

First Patriot martyr[edit]

Crispus Attucks is considered to be the first Black Patriot because he was killed in the Boston Massacre. Attucks was commemorated by his fellow Bostonians as a martyr for freedom. Attucks was a whaler who was believed to be of mixed Native American and African ancestry, born in or around Framingham, Massachusetts.[2] His death in the Boston Massacre is considered to be the first Patriot fatality of the war.[3]

A 19th-century lithograph variation of Paul Revere's famous engraving of the Boston Massacre. Produced before the American Civil War, this image emphasized Crispus Attucks in the center. He became an important symbol to abolitionists of sacrifice and black freedom. (By John Bufford after William L. Champey, circa 1856)[4]
Enlarged, 1781 drawing, of Black Patriot soldier in the 1st Rhode Island Regiment of the Continental Army
1781 drawing, of American soldiers from the Yorktown campaign, showing a black infantryman, on the far left, from the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. This regiment had the largest number of black Patriot soldiers in the Continental Army

Black Patriots who served in the State Militias[edit]

The Bucks of America were an all-Black, Massachusetts Militia company organized in 1775 in Boston. This was the name given to one of two all-black units fighting for independence. There is little known of the campaign history of the Bucks company, or if they ever saw combat. It appears that they operated mainly around Boston. The Bucks of America may have acted primarily as an auxiliary police or security service, in the city, during the war. They most likely did not see action against regular British soldiers.

Black Patriots who served in the Continental Army[edit]

After the British started recruiting African Americans to start serving or assisting the British cause on the promise of freedom, Americans began to recruit free blacks in New England and the East Coast to serve in the army. They were promised a life of luxury and mobility if they joined the war. The northerners were trying to escape the harsh treatment of blacks during the slavery era. By joining the war, they believed they were bettering the lives of African Americans all over.

Most of the time, Black Patriot soldiers served as individuals in a variety of predominantly white units of the Continental Army.

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment, also known as "Varnum's Continentals", was a Continental Army regiment from Rhode Island. It became well known as the "Black Regiment" because, for a time, it had several companies of African-American soldiers. It is regarded as the first African-American military regiment, although its ranks were not exclusively African American.[5]

Captain David Humphreys' All Black, 2nd Company, of the Connecticut Continental Line, served from October 1780-November 1782. On November 27, 1780, Humphrey's Black Company was assigned to the 3rd Connecticut Regiment. On January 1, 1781, the Regiment was merged with the 4th Connecticut Regiment, re-organized into nine companies, and re-designated as the 1st Connecticut Regiment.

William "Billy" Lee was an enslaved valet of George Washington who served in the Continental Army and fought with the general's forces. Lee was considered to be Washington's favorite slave, and was often featured in the background of the general's portraits.[6]

This depiction of the 1781 Battle of Cowpens showed an unnamed Patriot black soldier, possibly a slave, on the far left firing his pistol, saving the life of Colonel William Washington, mounted on a white horse in the center; from an 1845 painting by William Ranney


Famed African American, Harvard scholar and professor Henry Louis Gates is descended from John Redman, a Free Black Man who served in the Continental Army. Gates is currently working on a project to find all descendants of Black Patriots, who served in the American Revolutionary Continental Army.

Proposed national memorial[edit]

The National Liberty Monument is a proposed national memorial to be located in the capital to honor the more than 5000 enslaved and free persons of African descent who served as soldiers or sailors, or provided civilian assistance during the American Revolutionary War. The memorial is an outgrowth of a failed effort to erect a Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial. This was authorized in 1986, but fundraising faltered and the memorial foundation dissolved in 2005.

Congress authorized the National Liberty Monument in January 2013. On September 8, 2014, the United States House of Representatives passed the joint resolution approving the location in the capital of a memorial to commemorate the more than 5,000 slaves and free Black people who fought for independence in the American Revolution.[7] The joint resolution would approve the location of a commemorative work to honor the more than 5000 slaves and free black persons who fought in the American Revolution.[8]

Notable Black Patriots[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ White, Deborah; Bay, Mia; Martin Jr., Waldo E. (2013). Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans. Boston: Bedford St. Martin's. pp. 124–127.
  2. ^ White (2013). Freedom on My Mind. p. 124.
  3. ^ White (2013). Freedom on My Mind. pp. 149–150.
  4. ^ Thomas O'Connor, The Hub, Northeastern University Press, p. 56.
  5. ^ "THE FIRST RHODE ISLAND". AncientGreece-Early America. Archived from the original on 3 July 2007.
  6. ^ White, Deborah Gray (2013). Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans. New York: Bedford/St.Martins. pp. 152–153.
  7. ^ "H.J.Res. 120 - All Actions". United States Congress. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  8. ^ Marcos, Cristina (8 September 2014). "House authorizes location for American Revolution memorial in D.C." The Hill. Retrieved 9 September 2014.

External links[edit]