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Unsung Heroes: The Untold Stories of African American Soldiers and Sailors in the American Revolution

Discover the overlooked contributions of African American soldiers and sailors who fought for freedom in the American Revolution.

By Darius Spearman (africanelements)

About the author: Darius Spearman is a professor of Black Studies at San Diego City College. Author of several books, including Between The Color Lines: A History of African Americans on the California Frontier Through 1890.

The American Revolution wasn’t just a fight for the thirteen colonies. It was a battleground for freedom, echoing the broader scope of Black Studies. African American soldiers and sailors played a pivotal role, one that’s often swept under the rug.

“The role of African Americans in the American Revolution has been largely overlooked, despite their significant contributions to the fight for independence,” says Glenn Knoblock, a historian (Laconia Daily Sun).

Table 1: African American Contributions in the American Revolution

RoleNumberNotable Figures
Soldiers5,000+James Armistead, Peter Salem
SailorsUnknownPaul Cuffee, James Forten

Over 5,000 African Americans served in the Revolutionary War. Yet, their stories are often overlooked, buried under the weight of a whitewashed narrative.

“The first African Americans to integrate Clarke schools were not just students; they were pioneers in a movement that would change the course of history,” (WUGA).

Table 2: Forgotten Soldiers and Their Contributions

SoldierContributionAftermath
James ArmisteadSpy for the Continental ArmyFreed after the war
Peter SalemFought at Bunker HillFreed but died in poverty

African American sailors weren’t just deckhands; they were skilled navigators and brave warriors. Their stories are a testament to Black resilience.

“African American sailors were not just participants but key figures in naval battles, displaying extraordinary bravery and skill,” says Glenn Knoblock (Laconia Daily Sun).

Table 3: Notable African American Sailors

SailorRoleNotable Battles
Paul CuffeeNavigatorSiege of Yorktown
James FortenPrivateerCapture of the Royal Louis

Imagine fighting for freedom while wearing chains. That was the reality for many African American soldiers and sailors.

“The irony of fighting for freedom while being denied it is a cruel paradox that African Americans had to endure,” notes the Spokesman-Recorder (Spokesman-Recorder).

Table 4: The Dichotomy of Freedom

Status During WarStatus After WarNotable Figures
EnslavedRemained EnslavedHenry Hill, Ned Griffen
FreeRemained FreeSalem Poor, Jack Sisson

So, what happened after the cannons went silent? Many returned to a life of subjugation, their contributions forgotten.

“Despite their service, many African American soldiers and sailors returned to a life that was far from free,” reports WUGA (WUGA).

It’s a struggle that continues in modern Black politics.

Table 5: The Aftermath

Status During WarStatus After WarPercentage
EnslavedFreed15%
EnslavedRemained Enslaved85%

The American Revolution was more than a fight between colonists and the British; it was a fight for the soul of a nation. And in that fight, African American soldiers and sailors stood tall.

“The contributions of African Americans in the American Revolution should not just be a footnote but a chapter in the annals of American history,” concludes Glenn Knoblock (Laconia Daily Sun).

Their stories, like those of the Civil Rights Movement, deserve to be told and retold.