1770: CRISPUS ATTUCKS

1775-1783: AMERICAN REVOLUTION

1775: MASSACHUSETTS BLACK MINUTEMEN

1778-1781: 1ST RHODE ISLAND REGIMENT


1770: CRISPUS ATTUCKS

On March 5, 1770, Crispus Attucks and several other patriots from Boston protested the British curbing of civil liberties in their Massachusetts colony.

During a scuffle with British soldiers, Attucks and several others were shot and killed. Although independence had not yet been officially declared, many consider Attucks the first American casualty of the Revolutionary War.

The Boston Massacre greatly helped to foster colonists’ spirit of independence from Great Britain. More than 5,000 blacks — both slaves and free — would later take up the cause and fight for America’s independence. Unfortunately, freedom for most of them would have to wait.


1775-1783: AMERICAN REVOLUTION

Thousands of black Soldiers, both slaves as well as free, from all 13 colonies fought in the Continental Army during America’s war for independence from Great Britain. Many also served in state militias.

Black Soldiers served in every major battle of the war, mostly in integrated units. A notable exception was America’s first all-black unit, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. The regiment defeated three assaults by the British during the battle for Rhode Island in 1778 and later participated in the victory at Yorktown in 1781.

About 20 percent of the tens of thousands of blacks who served were manumitted – freed from slavery – as a result of their service.


1775: MASSACHUSETTS BLACK MINUTEMEN

Black Minutemen fought at Lexington and Concord as early as April 1775, but in May of that same year, the Committee for Safety of the Massachusetts Legislature presented a resolution. It read: “Resolved that it is the opinion of this Committee, as the contest now between Great Britain and the Colonies respects the liberties and privileges of the latter, which the Colonies are determined to maintain, that the admission of any persons, as soldiers, into the army now raising, but only such as are freemen, will be inconsistent with the principles that are to be supported, and reflect dishonor on the colony, and that no slaves be admitted into this army, upon any consideration whatever.”



1778-1781: 1ST RHODE ISLAND REGIMENT

In July 1778, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, the first all-black military unit in America, was assembled into service under the command of white officers.

On Aug. 29, 1778, they fought in the battle of Rhode Island on Aquidneck Island. They successfully held their line for four hours against British-Hessian assaults, enabling the entire American Army to escape a trap.

At Yorktown, on the night of Oct. 14, 1781, they took part in the assault and capture of Redoubt 10.

Unlike their white counterparts, these black Soldiers did not receive any compensation for their service after the war. Some Americans realized the irony of enslaved blacks fighting under the banner of the Declaration of Independence. As Henry Laurens of South Carolina stated, “[I am not] one of those who dare trust in Providence for defense and security of their own liberty while they enslave and wish to continue in slavery thousands who are as well entitled to freedom as themselves.” A monument to the regiment’s courage was erected in Portsmouth, R.I.