Learning more about the Revolutionary War soldiers

It has been months since our last posting, but we have been busy.  Our main efforts have been toward a better understanding of the role enslaved African American men of Warren played in the Revolutionary War.  The records of the War are fractured and incomplete — a fire in 1800 destroyed the majority of records at the War Department in DC,  with more destroyed when the British invaded the capitol during War of 1812 — but most were reconstituted and our State Archives have many of their own.  We also have spent time with websites and books including Bob Geake’s From Slaves to Soldiers, Judith Van Buskirk’s Standing in Their Own Light and the DAR’s  downloadable 900 pages on Native and African Americans who served in the Revolutionary War entitled Forgotten Patriots(2008) with Supplement (2012).

Rhode Island didn’t allow black men to join the military until February 14, 1778 (and that only lasted for four months) so it was baffling to see three enslaved Warren men –Hampton Barton, Caesar Cole and Prince Child — show up enlisted in the Spring of 1777.  But the thing is they went into the Continental Army which was desperate for men (enlistment was for a minimum of 3 years vs a few months in the local militias) and so these three African Americans were “enlisted”, likely by their owners, for the 44 pound bounty being offered.  Did these men have a choice?  Likely not, but even the Continental Army might have seemed a better option if it meant they were free men.

More to come…


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