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.
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
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.
"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.
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.