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The Role of African Americans in the Revolutionary War

An estimated 100,000 African Americans escaped, died or were killed during the American Revolution(Mount). Roughly 95% of African Americans in the United States were slaves, and because of their status, the use of them during the revolution was inevitable(Mount). This led many Americans, especially those from the North, to believe that the South’s economy would collapse without slavery due to the use of slaves on the front lines. However, only a small percentage of the slave population enlisted in either army. The concept of using slaves as soldiers was hardly revolutionary.

Blacks had served our country with honor and bravery since the country’s earliest days. Not only did the black troops fight for the United States, but also for England. The British crown used their heads and made an agreement which would help them draft slave troops. This was a chance for emancipation of slaves who fought against their masters. African Americans were active prior to the start of the war. The Boston Massacre was an event which created a want for independence. On March 5, 1770, the British troops stationed on King Street in Boston were confronted with an uprising and began shooting into the crowd(Davis 206).

Crispus Attucks, a black man, led the 1770 uprising against British troops that resulted in the Boston Massacre. It is alleged that he cried out, “Don’t be afraid! ” as he led the crowd of protesters against armed British soldiers. Attucks is considered the first death of the American Revolution(Davis 207). After the Boston Massacre, a small amount of African-Americans became an active part of the American cause, fighting at Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill; in all these engagements, black Americans were prominent in the fighting.

Paul Cuffe, an African American, helped supply the American colonies during the American Revolution, smuggling goods past British patrol ships. Lemuel Haynes served as a minuteman during the American Revolution, fighting at the siege of Boston and at Fort Ticonderoga. It wasn’t until Valley Forge and the large scale desertion of the Continental Army that Washington was forced by circumstances to re-think his views and take African-Americans into his army. The British saw Washington’s original actions and promised emancipation for all slaves who fought for England.

Washington’s position towards blacks had made it clear that the individuals running the revolution were not interested in black freedom, so the British offer literally produced a flood of African-American volunteers to the British Army. The escaped slaves were not merely good soldiers; they were passionate and saw the British cause as a way to rebel against their American masters. Despite being on the losing end of the war, slaves who fought for the British in the American Revolution mark the beginning of an emancipation movement.

The center of the Southern economy was the slaves and their contribution to the plantation owners. Southern agriculture was founded on the cultivation of tobacco, wheat, and corn in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina, and of rice and indigo in South Carolina and Georgia. These crops were cultivated with the help of black slaves, those that were not fighting in the war effort. Slaves were the only reason there was enough money to pay for the war and political events.

As a matter of fact, most of America’s political leaders were slaveholders themselves, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton(Davis 116). The chance of America winning the revolutionary war without slaves as the center of Southern economy would be highly unlikely. 250,000 slaves were now in colonial America and close to all of them were working for the economy of their oppressors. A small percent sought another way of life by joining either side of the war. The subtle role which the slaves played as soldiers was insignificant in comparison to the economic role they served in.

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