Slaves in America constituted close to a fifth of the population by 1776. According to Anderson and Stewart (1), the American and European economies were vastly developed using African-American slaves who were bought and sold in well established slave markets. These slaves were mainly deployed in plantation farms to work as manual laborers while others served as household helpers. As a result, their dignity and sovereignty was completely eroded.
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Most of the slaves composed of African-American men, children and women of African descent. Free African-Americans were less than forty thousand (Anderson and Stewart 1). These slaves took part patriotically in the revolutionary war hoping that they would be liberated from slavery (White 467-554).
In 1775, the African American soldiers were enlisted as minutemen in the Massachusetts Militia which was by that time an intercontinental army. According to White (467), lifting the ban on black enlistment in the army in January 1776 was largely perceived as an opportunity for African Americans to liberate themselves from slavery.
Prior to the lift of the ban, African American soldiers could be enlisted to serve as soldiers per se. Their key mandate was to fight Native Americans in the local militia. According to Goffe (74-78), more than five thousand men of African-American descent were enlisted as soldiers. On the same note, women were also recruited into the army to serve as nurses and general caretakers of the soldiers.
The slaves joined the military with a patriotic spirit. This revolutionary army also included free African-Americans who willingly joined the fighting force. White (469) notes that most of the African American soldiers served alongside their white counter parts since they strongly believed that the war would serve as a landmark beginning to the end of slavery in America.
The military also provided some form of liberty and free space compared to working in plantation farms where they were coerced to offer free and compulsory labor to their masters (Goffe 74-78). In the army, the African Americans served as soldiers in battle fields, guides for army troops and messengers. They also got a chance to act as spies for the army.
The enlisting of African American soldiers in the army during American Revolution came as a result of inadequacy of manpower in the Continental Navy and Royal Navy (White 553). There were no enough white soldiers who could serve in the two navies by that time.
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The African American men also worked as sailors for the British vessels and pilots during the entire revolution period. This would have been highly unlikely were it not for the revolution war. One of the outstanding features of the African American soldiers was their immense ability to navigate war ships compared to the British navy soldiers.
After sometimes, the then U.S President George Washington banned further enlisting of African American soldiers when he realized that they would possibly use their military service training to revolt against slavery in American. The ban was against all African Americans; whether slaves or free. The already enlisted soldiers were allowed to serve to the end of their term and then sent back to their masters (Goffe 74-78).
Towards the end of 1775, the then governor of Virginia Lord Dunmore invited black slaves to join the British army so that the southern colonies could be catered for with enough count of armies. In December 1775 Washington retracted his ban and ordered re-enlistment of the free black soldiers who had served in the army prior to the ban.
He ordered the re-enlistment because the government feared that the opponents would win the war if they enlisted more African American soldiers into their armies. However, even the slaves enlisted in the British army after being commanded to join the army were not entrusted with weapons for fear of slave rebellion (Goffe 77).They mostly served as spies or skilled laborers.
White (473-479) notes that the Lord Dunmore regiment which had earlier claimed that they were in course to liberate slaves in America did not use the African American soldiers in the battle fields until towards the end of the war when they fell short of man power and had no option but to use the African Americans or loose the war against the French army and Native Americans from the north.
The use African American soldiers in the battle field the Black royalist were the force behind Britain’s ability to defend Savannah against a combined attack from the French and rebel Americans despite the initial resistance to deploy them to the battle fields (Goffe 74-78).
African American soldiers were also part of the major army Rhodes Island in 1778 after the Island fell short of manpower and could not get enough whites to form their troops.
The slaves who passed the physical test were allowed to join the Rhodes Island first regiment after the Governor of Rhodes Island requested George Washington to grant him permission to enlist the American slaves in the Rhodes island army. Every slave who was enlisted after an inspection by Cornel Greene in the Rhodes Island fist regiment was liberated from slavery and his or her master compensated for the loss at the market value of slaves.
The Rhodes Island fist regiment treated African American soldiers fairly and was the first regiment to have an all black segregated group. It had over two hundred African American soldiers (White 479). Despite a few hiccups such as missing African American soldiers, the regiment was the first among continental armies to treat African American soldiers with dignity. At the time most of the war had shifted south and the Rhodes Island fist regiment hardly fought against any army for a few years.
When Colonel Green managed to be a pioneer in formulation of all black troop that successfully fought against the loyalist, they retaliated by mutilating his body and killing some of his soldiers in skirmishes created just for revenge. In 1785, some of the African American slaves who were still the property of the loyalist left for Jamaica and St Augustine on a British ship (White 554).
A few others who refused to relocate and colonized the savannah swamp Goffe (74-78). According to White (553), the slaves who remained with the British on their voyage to New York and Nova Scotia were registered in a book documenting their service to the British, enslavement and escape. If British felt their story was true they were granted transport to New York and latter resettled in Nova Scotia.
To recap it all, it is imperative to note that the Inter -continental military soldiers who remained loyal to the revolutionary cause were later banned from the military with no apologies. Most of the soldiers who took part in the war were not liberated as earlier promised.
Anderson, Talmadge & Stewart, Benjamin James. Introduction to African American studies: Trans-disciplinary approaches and Implications. Baltimore: Imprint Editions, 2007.
Goffe, Leslie. “The war that ended slavery in America and blacks’ part in it”, New African 505 (2011): 74-78.
White, Edward. “Recovering the Legal History of the Confederacy.” Washington and Lee Law Review, 68.2 (2011): 467-554.
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