African American Soldiers in the Revolutionary War

The Patriots of African Descent Memorial was dedicated in 1993 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is an important site to the Revolutionary War. George Washington’s army encamped there during the winter of 1777-1778. Many people visit the site to learn more about American history. They also to go see the Patriots of African Descent Memorial. It is one of the few monuments to recognize the importance of African Americans to the Revolutionary War.

The words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence gave hope to enslaved Africans. Many supported the revolution because they believed those famous words might one day apply to them. In all, about 5,000 African American soldiers served in the Continental Army. The First Rhode Island Regiment, formed in 1778, consisted mainly of African Americans. They joined George Washington at Valley Forge. Many of these men were freed from slavery in exchange for joining the army.

African Americans also served in the Continental Navy. A 14-year-old free African American named James Forten was captured in 1781 during his service as a powder boy. The British offered him his freedom, but he turned down the offer saying, “No, I’m a prisoner for my country and I’ll never be a traitor to her.” He was held for seven months as a prisoner of war.

However, other African Americans chose to fight for the British. They were drawn by a promise from the British governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore. He issued a document that granted freedom to enslaved people and indentured servants who fought for the British.

African Americans patriots were very important to the cause of freedom for the colonies. More and more people are beginning to recognize the bravery of African American soldiers during the American Revolution. Plans are underway for another, larger memorial for African American patriots called The Liberty Memorial in Washington, DC.

What Do You Think? Imagine someone asked you to create a monument for African American soldiers in the American Revolution. What would you include in your memorial?

Photo Credit: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy Stock Photo