Patriots of Color
Between 20 and 40 colonists of the approximately 4,000 who fought on the Battle Road on April 19, 1775, were African or Native American. By the end of the war, an estimated 5,500 African and Native American men had served on the colonial side. Many more served on the side of the British, particularly after the war moved south. Why would these men fight for a society that treated them as inferior? Why don't we hear more about this part of the story of the American Revolution?
In 1775, people across the spectrum of race and social status engaged in warfare to defend what was most dear to them. Life, Liberty, and Property, considered by people on both sides of the conflict to be the birthright of all British subjects, was a prize many would die for. For some, it was a right they would not willingly part with. For others, bound and enslaved, it was yet to be fulfilled. The American Revolution did not provide freedom for all, instead, it was just the beginning of a long struggle.
Peter Salem Makes Debut at Minute Man Visitor Center
In time for the 2014 visitor season, an almost life-size figure of Peter Salem has been added to the British and colonial figures in the interpretive exhibit at Minute Man National Historical Park Visitor Center. An African American minute man who fought on the Battle Road on April 19, 1775 and later at Bunker Hill, Peter Salem will help park staff interpret Patriots of Color.
Peter Salem was born enslaved and enlisted in 1775 with his owner's promise of freedom. As a minute man from Framingham, Salem marched to Concord and Cambridge in Capt. Simon Edgell's company, entering the fight on the Battle Road near Brooks Hill. A few weeks later, during the Siege of Boston, Salem enlisted in the Massachusetts army and fought at Bunker Hill. There, as a traditional story of the time claimed, he was likely responsible for killing Major John Pitcairn, who led the British attack. The next year, Salem enlisted in the Continental Army for three years. He served in the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, trained at Valley Forge, and fought in the Battles of Saratoga (1777), Monmouth (1778), and Stony Point (1779). At the war's end, Peter Salem was a free man. He married and built a small house in Leicester, Massachusetts. In his old age, no longer able to support himself, Salem was forced to return to Framingham. He died in 1816 and was buried in a pauper's grave. A monument was later erected to honor Salem's service in the American Revolution.
More Work to Do
Groundbreaking research by George Quintal, Jr. in his 2002 Patriots of Color report about African and Native Americans at Battle Road and Bunker Hill¹ provides the significant historical detail upon which the National Park Service can begin to bring this story to light.
Building on this foundation, the park will work with a Scholar in the Park this season, funded by the Friends of Minute Man National Park, to conduct additional research and develop tools the interpretive staff will use to integrate this story into park programs. In addition, a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher will develop a lesson plan on this topic for middle school students this summer.
If you are interested in helping us interpret this topic, please join our mailing list by contacting e-mail us.
¹© 2005 George Quintal Jr. (under license 2010).
Gilbert, Alan. Black Patriots and Loyalists Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Horton, James Oliver and Lois E. In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Horton, James Oliver and Lois E. Slavery and the Making of America. Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 2009.
Horton, James Oliver and Lois E. (Ed.). Slavery and Public History. The Tough Stuff of American Memory. Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 2006.
Jasanoff, Maya. Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. New York:Alfred A.Knopf, 2011.
Lemire, Elise. Black Walden: Slavery and its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
Melish, Joanne Pope. Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780-1860. New York: Cornell University Press, 2000.
Nash, Gary. The Unknown American Revolution. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
Petrulionis, Sandra Harbert. To Set This World Right: The Antislavery Movement in Thoreau's Concord. New York: Cornell University Press, 2006.
Quintal, Jr. George. Patriots of Color. African and Native Americans at Battle Road and Bunker Hill. 2005.
Simon Schama. Rough Crossings: The Slaves, the British, and the American Revolution. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
Did You Know?
Minute Man National Historic Park includes ten "witness" houses. These are houses that were here at the time of the April 19, 1775 battle.