Forgotten Patriots

The Forgotten Patriots Project focuses on the important contributions made by African American and American Indian patriots of the American Revolution. To date, thousands of Forgotten Patriots have been identified, and DAR researchers continue to uncover these individuals and their unique stories.

Forgotten Patriots Project
Forgotten Patriots 2008 Publication
Download 2008 Publication
Download Supplement 2008-2012
Excerpts from 2008 Publication
Additional Resources
Contact


Forgotten Patriots Project

Since the mid-1980s, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution has supported a project to identify the names of African Americans, Native Americans, and individuals of mixed heritage who supported the American struggle for independence from Great Britain during the American Revolution. In the 1980s and 1990s, a series of small booklets for each of the original states were published, and in 2001 these booklets were merged into one volume and their contents greatly expanded in the publication titled African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War.

The 2001 book also inspired a well-received and interesting exhibition in the DAR Museum "Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Service in the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783." The exhibition was open to the public from the fall of 2002 to the summer of 2003. During the exhibition's run, a seminar on the same topic was held at DAR Headquarters in Washington, D. C. in January 2003 and featured noted historians from around the country.

During the next few years, DAR researchers continued to build on the 2001 book, and by 2006 it became clear that a new publication was needed to present all of the additional findings. In April 2008, DAR published Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War, an 874-page expansion of the 200-page publication. In the three years since this book was published, research continued and new findings have been complied in a supplement that is now available.

All print copies of the 2008 edition of the Forgotten Patriots book were sold-out by the summer of 2010, and discussions began to determine the next step in the process of providing this information to the public. DAR is now offering the full text of the Forgotten Patriots book and its corresponding supplement online! These documents can be downloaded for free from the DAR website. Subsequent updates will appear online as needed.

Note: Please be aware that the following publication is not connected with NSDAR publications, with the 2002-2003 DAR Museum exhibit, or the 2003 seminar.

Burrows, Edwin G. Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners during the Revolution. New York:
Basic Books, 2008.

Forgotten Patriots Book

Forgotten Patriots – African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources, and Studies

The second edition of Forgotten Patriots (2008) identifies over 6,600 names of African Americans and American Indians who contributed to American Independence and is a nearly five-fold expansion in pages over the 2001 edition. Now available as a free PDF download, this 874 page document contains details of the documented service of the listed Patriots, historical commentary on happenings of the time, an assortment of illustrations, and an extensive bibliography of research sources related to the topic.

Following an introduction that provides context to the service of these often overlooked Patriots and the challenges faced in documenting their service, the book organizes its findings into chapters that include historical commentary, sources cited, names of identified Patriots and a bibliography directly related to each state and region of the country. Additional chapters also cover miscellaneous naval and military records, foreign allies, and the West Indies.

Seven appendices are included to elaborate on topics not often addressed in other publications:
  • Map of the Enslaved Population, 1790 Census
  • Documenting the Color of Participants in the American Revolution
  • Names as Clues to Finding Forgotten Patriots
  • The Numbers of Minority Participants in the Revolution
  • Glossary of Terms Used
  • Master List of Source Abbreviations Used in This Book
  • Contacting the DAR

Just as important to researchers will be the vast array of thousands of sources found in the book's extensive bibliography that provides a roadmap for those seeking to discover even more information on the topic.

The Forgotten Patriots research guide is an indispensable tool for students, scholars, historians, and genealogists interested in the important contributions of African Americans and American Indians in America's fight for Independence. On an additional level, the hope is that it will also encourage the female descendents of these patriots to join the important volunteer and educational work of the DAR.

Forgotten Patriots - African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources, and Studies is out of print, however, the entirety of the information can be downloaded for free as a PDF document.

The DAR Library continues to seek new opportunities to expand the Forgotten Patriots project. A supplement to this book includes additional names and documentation and can be downloaded for free as a PDF document - Forgotten Patriots Supplement 2008-2012.

Forgotten Patriots Downloadable Information

Forgotten Patriots - African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources, and Studies

Download PDF

This document contains the entire content of the 2008 publication which identifies over 6,600 names of African American and American Indians who contributed to American Independence. The 874 pages include details of the documented service of the listed Patriots, historical commentary on happenings of the time, an assortment of illustrations, and an extensive bibliography of research sources related to the topic.

Forgotten Patriots Supplement 2008-2012

Download PDF

This 79 page document contains all of the same type of information as the 2008 publication, but includes an additional three years of research revealing additional names of African American and American Indians who contributed to the Revolution. Additional sources and bibliographical information that was discovered after the publication of the book is also included in this supplement.

Excerpts from Forgotten Patriots

Introduction, by Eric Grundset, DAR Library Director, Forgotten Patriots Editor and Project Manager

Since its founding in 1890, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution has collected and published information about the American Revolution. Included in this tradition have been articles, grave markings, or placement of historical plaques that note the involvement of African Americans and American Indians in the struggle. It is in that vein that this second edition of Forgotten Patriots has been developed and published. Expanding by almost five-fold the number of pages included in the 2001 edition, the hope is that this current body of work will not only be of interest to students and scholars interested in the important contributions of African Americans and American Indians in the America's fight for independence, but that it will also encourage the female descendents of these patriots to join the important volunteer and educational work of the DAR.

Why did minority individuals fight for the American cause in the Revolution?

Thousands [of African Americans and American Indians] participated in the Revolutionary War on the American side. But why? ... Every individual judged their own circumstances and made decisions based on those and on what they hoped for in life. Their reasons for participating are probably as varied as the individuals themselves, but we can draw some general conclusions from reading the records of their actions and activities. These individuals are, then, the subjects of this study.

At the beginning of the war, most states expressly prohibited the enlistment of free blacks and slaves. The idea of giving weapons to men who might well be tempted to use them against their oppressors was frightening to the establishment. As time progressed, however, and the need for soldiers became more desperate, state after state set in place systems by which slaves could earn their freedom by serving in the military and whereby free men could enlist themselves. Some could serve as substitutes in place of their owner, or someone else, with the promise of emancipation at the end of the war. ... Some individuals who did indeed fight in the American forces were denied their freedom after the war, and several law suits resulted from this. Many others probably disappeared back into slavery with no legal or financial means to protest such actions. So, while the hope or dream of personal freedom happened for many who fought for the American cause, not everyone was so fortunate.

American Indians were all born on the North American continent, of course, and the same sentiments and situations were part of their experience as well. ...Those American Indians who did fight for the Americans were mostly from either surviving groups in the east or from areas near the frontier. Some were individuals probably who hoped for better lives for their families and communities based on the messages delivered by the American cause and their own personal beliefs and objectives.

Final Thoughts

This is a fascinating and important subject for anyone interested in the period of the American Revolution. Everyone involved in this project at DAR headquarters has found it to be rewarding, informative, and captivating. And while the research to identify and document forgotten patriots will continue as a part of the daily activities of DAR, it is hoped that this work will spur others to undertake an examination of their ancestry and the rich heritage that has come to make up our great nation.

Personal Patriot Stories

Anthony Gilman
In Anthony Gilman's pension application is proof that neither the American determination to keep African Americans out of the army nor the British promise of freedom to blacks who joined their cause, were firm policies. Anthony enlisted as a fifer in a Massachusetts company in December 1775. He was captured in New York, and "as a man of color," the British sold him to John Falkenham. After about a year of servitude, Anthony was sent to Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, from where he made a successful escape. He then joined Captain Nathaniel Hutchin's Company in Colonel Joseph Cilley's Regiment and finished his military service with New Hampshire troops.

Henries Vomhavi
"After the events at Lexington and Concord, the second Provincial Congress continued to discuss the question of Indian participation and in May 1775 established a committee comprised of Captain Stone, Colonel Warren and Mr. Sullivan to take into consideration the expediency of taking measures for raising a company or two of Indians". Even while those discussions were going on, Indians were fighting on the side of the Americans. One of the first to become involved in battle was Henries Vomhavi who was allowed to keep a little horse which he had taken during skirmishes at Noddles Island, near Boston, in late May and early June. Vomhavi was awarded the horse for the risks which he had taken and as an incentive to encourage other Indians to join the Americans.

James Armistead Lafayette
James, an enslaved man of William Armistead of New Kent County, joined the army with the consent of his master. He was assigned to the Marquis de Lafayette. At the risk of his life, he entered British camps and brought information to the Marquis. In 1786, a petition was offered to set James free and compensate his master. James took the patronymic of Lafayette for his new life as a free man.

Abraham Nimham
Massachusetts did indeed employ Indians during the Revolutionary War. For example, in May 1775, Abraham Nimham, a Stockbridge Indian, was paid "thirty six shillings lawful mony" by the Receiver General of Massachusetts for carrying a message. In October 1777, the Continental Congress instructed that 200 dollars be paid Abraham Nimham and his companions "...as an acknowledgement for their zeal in the cause of the United States," and for their service under Major General Gates. The above-mentioned Abraham Nimham was the same "old sachem" that, with a young chief Nimham, was brutally murdered by the British in a skirmish near Kingsbridge, New York on August 31, 1778. A total of 30 Indians were killed in the skirmish and many more wounded.

Salem Poor and Peter Salem
Two of the best-known African American heroes of the Revolution, Salem Poor and Peter Salem, were from Massachusetts and fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Salem Poor was a servant of John Poor 3rd of Andover. Six of his commanding officers at the battle sent "recommendation" concerning his bravery to the General Courts of Massachusetts. The recommendation read in part, "We declare that a Negro man called Salem Poor...in the late battle of Charlestown behaved like an experienced officer as well as an excellent soldier...We would only beg to leave to say in the person of the said Negro centres a brave and gallant soldier..."

Peter Salem of Framingham, a slave, is credited with having shot and killed a British officer, Major John Pitcairn, near the end of the same battle. Salem, who was a waiter to Colonel Thomas Nixon of Framingham, served throughout the war and by its conclusion had earned his freedom.

Additional Resources
  • Guide to Minority Services Research at the DAR Library

    Download PDF

    This brochure consists of material relating to three projects of the DAR. They include the Forgotten Patriots Seminar, held January 11, 2003, the DAR Museum exhibition Forgotten Patriots, October 2002-August 2003, and the DAR book African American and American Indian Patriots of the Revolutionary War (2001 and revised edition) and earlier pamphlets.

  • African American Genealogical Research at the DAR Library

    Download PDF

    The past twenty years has seen an explosion of publishing in African American studies including works on African American genealogical research. The DAR Library has developed a strong and growing collection of basic and detailed printed sources on this subject. In the Library's General/African American section library patrons will find research manuals and guidebooks, histories on slavery and abolition, the "Great Migration" of the early twentieth century, general reference materials, and scholarly and popular journals, including a complete run of the Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.

  • Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Service in the Revolutionary War at the DAR Museum

    This 2002 exhibit, organized by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Museum and in collaboration with the DAR Library, illuminates, in many cases for the first time, the varied roles that members of these groups played in our nation's fight for independence. The decision to fight for America against the English was a difficult one for many Americans of all ranks and ethnic backgrounds. For the American Indian tribes, and for enslaved and free African Americans, it was especially problematic. The simple fact that these men and women served at all is a powerful testament to their devotion to our new nation in difficult and uncertain times.

    Read complete press release

Contact

The publications staff of the DAR Library continues to work on the Forgotten Patriots Project. They welcome questions, additions, or corrections to the content of the material and would appreciate documentation to support or to clarify the correspondence.

For more information, or to ask questions about the Forgotten Patriots project, please email forgottenpatriots@dar.org or call the DAR Library at (202) 879-3229.

 

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