Revive Expanding Banner 1500×510

African American Revolutionary War Heroes: 1st Rhode Island

In 1778, the Rhode Island legislature passed a law that allowed black slaves to enter the war in order to gain their freedom. Michael Lee Lanning quotes Rhode Island Governor Nicholas Cooke in his book, African Americans in the Revolutionary War:

“Liberty is given to every effective slave to enter the service during th war; and, upon his passing muster, he is absolutely made free, and entitled to all the wages, bounties, and encouragements given by Congress to any soldier enlisting into their service.”
– Governor Cooke, in a letter to Washington, February 23, 1778.

[text_ad]

Some whites opposed this measure. According to Lanning, local whites were telling their slaves that if they joined the regiment, they would be sacrificed as “breastworks” and that if taken prisoner, they would be “taken to the West Indies and sold as slaves.”

About 90 slaves enlisted to gain their freedom. Many of them had no prior experience handling muskets or other weapons, but after six weeks of training, they were battle-ready, and soon joined the American and French effort in the Battle of Rhode Island. According to Lanning, “there is no doubt that the black Rhode Islanders fought well in the battle and contributed to its success,” although “their role was fairly minor.”

Despite the outstanding performance of the black regiment, the State of Rhode Island soon voted in a new legislature, and one of their first acts was to repeal the slave-enlistment law. The new law stated: “It is therefore voted and resolved, that no negro, mulatto, or Indian slave, be permitted to enlist into said battalions from and after the tenth day of June next; and that the said act then expire, and be no longer in force.”

You can read all about the 1st Rhode Island “black regiment” in Lanning’s book, or by visiting BlackPast.org.

Comments

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Top Ad Space

Top Ad Space 2

Middle Ad Space

Bottom Ad Space

Our Magazines

Military History Magazine Cover

Military
Heritage

Subscribe

There are moments in military history that forever alter the flow of human events. Times when the very landscape appears to shift. In the annals of military history magazines, this is one of those moments.

WWII History Magazine Cover

WWII
History

Subscribe

It changed the world more than any other single event in history. There have been countless thousands of published works devoted to all or of it. But there’s NEVER been anything like THIS before.

WWII Quarterly Cover

WWII
Quarterly

Subscribe

WWII Quarterly, the hardcover journal of the Second World War that is not available in bookstores or on newsstands, and can only be obtained and collected through a personal subscription through the mail.