Historic Happenings: A Revolutionary Part of Black History

Historic Happenings: A Revolutionary Part of Black History

It is Black History Month, and all February long, we will be celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of the African American community both here in Trenton and all over the nation. When it comes to the Capital City, our community is world-renowned for its role in the Revolutionary War. After all, it is here in Trenton that the tides of the war turned, ultimately leading the United States to its eventual victory. When learning about the Revolutionary War, we often hear about figures such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson. And while these stories have their merits, this narrative often leaves out the profound contributions and diversity of lived experiences present at the time of the war. Today, let’s take a look back at the experiences of both free and enslaved African Americans in the Revolutionary War, and how this community played a critical role in the fight for America’s freedom.

Throughout the Revolutionary War, both free and enslaved Black Americans fought on behalf of the fledgling United States. Throughout the nation, a number of integrated units emerged, allowing for a greater diversity of participation throughout the war. Most famously, the formation of the First Rhode Island Regiment marked a notable increase in participation from the African American community. In 1778, the Rhode Island Assembly officially declared that those of African American and Native American descent were eligible to serve in the war. In this declaration, the Assembly decreed “every slave so enlisting shall, upon his passing muster before Colonel Christopher Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free.”

Black Soldiers were an active part of every battle of the Revolutionary War. From the first gunfire to the final blow, African American soldiers valiantly served and played an integral part in the success of American military operations. In total, estimates suggest that somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 soldiers of African American descent served with the Continental Army throughout the duration of the war. There were also thousands of valiant soldiers who served as sailors, as well as those who served in state militias. Despite the perils of war and great opposition in the face of bigotry, these soldiers exemplify the selflessness and tenacity necessary to emerge victorious in the face of war.

When it comes to examining the history of both our local community and the world at large, it’s imperative that these stories reflect the lived experiences of all who were present at the time, not just those who suit the prescribed narrative. When we take a look back at the full scope of history, we are given the opportunity to shine a light on the heroism and achievements of those who may have otherwise been left out of the traditional tales. This Black History Month and every month, may we take a moment to salute the hundreds of heroes from the African American community who helped to shape the nation we share today.

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