African American Heritage & Ethnography African Nation Founders: African Systems of Meaning—Counter-Cultural Resistance

Counter-Cultural Resistance

Resisting With their Feet

Historically, migration is one of the most common counter-cultural resistance strategies used by American people of African descent from the colonial era forward. For enslaved peoples this meant running away, fleeing, attempting to escape enslavement.

There were many reasons people ran-away, one of the most frequent being separation from their family members by estate settlement upon the death of an owner. When hard times forced a slave owner to liquidate their assets including “negro” chattel they owned, sales separated enslaved families. Sometimes slave owners simply gave an enslaved person away as a gift to their daughters as dowry. Because slaves were valuable property to be left to children, they were often divided among several heirs as legacies. Enslaved people ran way to reestablish marital and familial ties or to protest changes in ownership or to join even prospective mates from whom they had been separated.

Other people ran away from slavery with the intention of reaching freedom in far away Canada or to Florida, particularly when Florida was a Spanish colony. Enslaved people living close to urban areas or seaports headed for the anonymity of the city where they had least possibility of being recognized or challenged. In the city, they might pass for free and find work. In a seaport like Charleston or Baltimore, men might gain employment as a hand on a ship and work their way to freedom.

White wage laborers in Charleston had to compete with the large variety of skills of fugitives as well as with the hired out labor of enslaved people. One study found approximately 35 different occupations listed in runaway advertisements for fugitives. Some fugitives managed to survive by selling milk, firewood, oysters, fish, rice, rum, and corn in Charleston markets. In 1763, the Commissioner of Markets accused fugitives of “combinating together to raise all prices in the market beyond anything heretofore known unless when some contagious disease hits the town (Meaders 1975:307).”

Some people sought freedom for its own sake. Newly arrived Africans with almost no understanding of language or local terrain fled the terrible traumas of adapting to the conditions of slavery. Opportunity, occupational backgrounds, and situational possibilities facilitated or impeded people from attempting to runaway. Language skill and literacy were helpful and runaway advertisement bear out that people who could speak English “tolerably well” or were able to forge a pass were highly represented among runaways. However, in southern rural environments, familiarity with the terrain was probably of greater importance.

Studies of Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina runaway advertisements found that men ran away more frequently than females. Young males ran away more frequently than did older men. Field hands were less likely to run away than artisans who had occupational skills that added to the possibility of their success.

A high percentage of African and African American men running away from Virginia slavery worked as household domestics. Most were under age twenty. Advertisements for runaways show that a considerable number of young male runaways could speak “good” or “tolerable” English, read and some could write. Even those who did not have such skills made good use of their occupational skills to seek their own fortune, running away and “passing” as free men or women.

Comparison of Age and Occupation of African American Men Runaways, Virginia 1732–1799.

North Carolina male runaways had similar characteristics as those leaving Virginia. The percentage of watermen who ran away in the Carolinas was 2–4 times greater than their percentage in the general population of enslaved people. Kay and Cary comment that watermen had the advantage of being relatively acculturated and, compared to other slaves, better able to sell their skills in the free labor market. There is also evidence that in North Carolina the many of the watermen who ran away were African-born (Kay and Cary 1986:7; Attmore and Roadman [1787] 1922:44–45).

Kay and Cary examined the departure timing of North Carolina runaways. They found the most popular times for running away were harvesting season from September to November followed by February – April when spring planting began. They concluded people timed their escape attempts to avoid both working and bad weather (Kay and Cary 1986:11). A study of South Carolina runaways over the years of 1725–1799 found people fled during May, June, and July, the period of hardest labor in the rice fields (Kay and Cary 1986:10 ftn. 53).

In spite of the high risk of being caught and the extreme penalties for attempting to run away, enslaved Africans fled, or a Peter Wood put it, “stole themselves (Wood 1974:).” There is little hard evidence of the how frequently people who ran away succeeded. Repeat runaway advertisements for the same person indicate that in some cases runaways were successful. In other cases like that of Quash, who later took the name “Will Quash,” they were not deterred by one or more unsuccessful attempts (Virginia Runaways, Will Quash 1783). During and after the Revolutionary War thousands of enslaved African Americans from Virginia, women as well as men, fled to the British seeking freedom or simply absconded in the confusion of war.

Running away was an act of resistance. In their actions, enslaved people denied the powerlessness of their assigned status. An analysis of colonial laws relating to running away in terms of the number of laws and the increasing severity of the legislated penalties for slaves running away or for free people, white or black who might aid slaves to run away demonstrate the slave owners profound anxiety about the issue.

Some enslaved people aimed to pass themselves off as free and fade into British-held colonies in the north. Others aimed to join their other runaways in the French or American Indian-held regions north of the British. Some set out for Spanish-held terrain. A considerable number sought to establish camps, even African communities within the confines of the Southern colonies and later to be the Southern states.

Maroonage -Self-Exclusion

The whole notion of successful armed maroon communities threatened the ideological and political foundations of the slave system and dominance of European society. Their existence contradicted 18th century beliefs that Africans needed the slave master’s paternalistic oversight in order to survive. Evidence exists of at least fifty such communities in various places at various times, from 1672 to 1864. The mountainous, forested or swampy regions of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and later Mississippi and Alabama at one time or another all harbored maroon communities.

Maroons Hiding in the Woods.

Before 1763, “Negroes” in Georgia and South Carolina fled to Spanish Florida where they established settlements. As late as 1828 J. C. Ley, a Methodist Circuit rider traveling through Florida preaching to settlers, slaves, and Seminole found a group of maroons still living with the Indians. In his diary, Ley says he heard about a group of “Blacks living with the Indians a few miles west of Camp King,” the general location of present day Ocala, Florida. He set out to find them hoping they would translate his message to the Indians. Ley tells of “about fifty Blacks who came out of the woods led by Pompey, the father and grandfather and leader of them all (Ley 1879:30–42).”

Some maroons built homes, maintained families, raised cattle, and pursued agriculture in Virginia and North Carolina. The most notable of such communities was located in the Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina. In 1672, Virginia passed a law urging and rewarding the hunting down and killing of “outlawed fugitives” living in the Dismal Swamp (Aptheker 1939:168).

Other maroon camps were made up of males only. They raided surrounding farms and plantations for food and arms. The colonials searched for these camps, raided them whenever they could, but never completely removed the threat of maroon-led insurrection or maroon camps harboring and abetting runaways enroute to other destinations (Tidwell, 2003).

Petit Maroonage

In other cases, small groups of slaves would escape from their plantations for weeks, sometimes months, and then eventually return. This kind of truant behavior was called “petit maroonage.”

In the bayous of 18th century Louisiana, petit maroonage became highly structured. The maroons in the bas du Fleuve region, south of New Orleans, developed highly sophisticated trade and communication systems with the slaves who remained on the plantations as well as with free Creoles. Maroons like Saint Maló and his band would exchange goods, perform work, and trade information with slaves and freemen. The French and later the Spanish, sent black troops to track down Saint Maló, they returned empty handed so powerful was his influence. According to Tidwell, Creole folk songs are still sung about Saint Maló in the bayous and backwaters of Louisiana, and the Creole expression for running away is parti maron (Tidwell 2003:45–46).

In 1768 a large camp of “outcast mulattoes, mustees, and free Negros battled with colonial militia in Georgia. In the 1780s, during the Revolutionary War, numerous bodies of Negro slaves who served under the inspiration of a promised freedom fled calling themselves soldiers of the King of England. They carried out guerilla warfare along the Savannah until a militia from Georgia and South Carolina successfully attacked them. Thy lived in a large group of men and women in twenty-one houses they erected. They had even planted rice fields in a clearing near the Savannah River. The site measured 700 yards long and 120 yards wide, and was protected by a four-foot high log-and-cane barrier on the landside and large fallen logs on the creek side. From this base in the swamps, “Captain Cudjoe” and “Captain Lewis” led an armed group of 100 men who called themselves “the King of England’s Soldiers” in bold attacks on plantations and on Georgia state troops (Aptheker 1939:170).

American slave owners recognized that very few, if any, enslaved people completely accepted their accepted their status as slaves. Most, if not all, slave owners were completely aware of this and generally lived in fear of African-Americans uprisings. They expected slaves to run away. Their letters and diaries provide strong evidence that slave owners (and even non-slave owners) in the south believed that rebellion was imminent.

Counter-Cultural Resistance: Day to Day Resistance, Rebellion and Revolt

Most Africans and African Americans never accepted enslavement. Captured Africans often mutinied on board slave trading vessels. The Africans’ fought brutally in their attempts to escape enslavement and the ship’s crews were equally as brutal in repressing their insurrection.

Cugoano, a self-identified Fante from the Gold Coast (‘I was born in the city of Agimaque, on the coast of Fantyn’), was kidnapped and enslaved around 1770, when he was about 13 years old. After enslavement in various parts of the Caribbean he brought to England at the end of 1772. There Cugoano taught himself to read and write, and ultimately joined the abolitionist movement. At around the age of 30 he published his Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery in which, according to Handler, he raised the most overt and extended challenge to slavery ever made by a person of African descent using experiences from his own life to expose the injustices and horrors of slavery and the slave trade. In what may be the only reference to a revolt by an enslaved African in all of the slave trade literature, Cugoano mentions a foiled plot; in so doing, he also provides a unique reference among the autobiographers to the sexual abuse and exploitation of women that was widespread on the slave ships (Handler 2002:34).

“I have forgot the name of this infernal fort,” wrote Cugoano, “but we were taken in the ship that came for us, to another that was ready to sail from Cape Coast. When we were put into the ship, we saw several black merchants coming on board, but we were all drove into our holes, and not suffered to speak to any of them. In this situation we continued several days in sight of our native land…And when we found ourselves at last taken away, death was more preferable than life; and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames: but we were betrayed by one of our own countrywomen, who slept with some of the headmen of the ship, for it was common for the dirty filthy sailors to take the African women and lie upon their bodies; but the men were chained and pent up in holes. It was the women and boys which were to burn the ship, with the approbation and groans of the rest; though that was prevented, the discovery was likewise a cruel bloody scene (Cugoano [1787] 1825:124 as cited in Handler 2002:34).”

On a day to day basis, enslaved people resisted their condition in a variety of ways ranging from common kinds of strategies such as deliberate misunderstanding slave owners directives or feigned lack of understanding, breaking tools, making believe they were ill, and carrying out work slow downs. Perceived injustices or severe punishments of enslaved people led them to engage in arson and other more serious kinds of sabotage.

Over time, English laws became increasingly restrictive as their fears of slave uprising escalated. Even learning to read, which came to be prohibited by law, was an act of resistance. Some went so far as to plot the deaths of their owners; poisonings at the hands of trusted house servants were widely suspected, but rarely proved.

Outright revolts came with increasing frequency as the relative flexibility and freedoms of the 17th century gave way to the every more stringent enslavement laws or the 18th century. In 1691, a revolt led by a slave named Mingoe ravaged Virginia plantations in Rappahannock County leaving Whites fearful of slave uprisings. In Low Country. The anxieties of White South Carolinians increased as the population of African Americans reached a majority by the 1730s.

In 1732, the South Carolina Gazette printed news from Africa that “ Capt. John Major, in a schooner from New Hampshire, was treacherously murdered and his Vessel and cargoe [sic] seized by Negroes.” Closer to home came reports of uprisings of Africans in the Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, and Jamaica. The South Carolina plantation owners responded with every increasingly restrictive slave laws.

Stono Rebellion

Whites fears of the people they kept enslaved were justified on September 9, 1739, when an African man named Jemmy, thought to be of Angolan origin, led a march from Stono near Charleston toward Florida and what he believed would be freedom in St. Augustine. As they marched, the Africans killed Whites, pillaged their homes, and burned the buildings. Other slaves joined Jemmy and their numbers grew to nearly 100. Jemmy and his companions killed dozens of whites on their way, in what became known as the Stono Rebellion. “they called out liberty, marched on with colours displayed, and two drums beating.”

What exactly triggered the Stono Rebellion is not clear. Slaves knew that small groups of runaways had made their way from South Carolina to Florida, where they had been given freedom and land. Word had recently arrived that England and Spain were at war, raising hopes that the Spanish in St. Augustine would give a positive reception to slaves escaping from Carolina plantations.

Whites, alerted by Governor, were ready to retaliate. By dusk, about thirty slaves were dead and at least thirty had escaped. Most were captured over the next month, then executed; the rest were captured over the following six months—all except one who remained a fugitive for three years. A contemporary account indicates that within the first two days of the revolt the militia company “kill’d twenty odd more, and took about 40; who were immediately some shot, some hang’d, and some Gibbeted alive.” In some instances, those who were shot were decapitated and their heads were displayed on mileposts and doorsteps. At the time of the Rebellion, the white South Carolinians had been working on a Negro Act that would limit the privileges of slaves even further. After Stono, this act was quickly finalized and approved. No longer would slaves be allowed to grow their own food, assemble in groups, earn their own money, or learn to read. Some of these restrictions had been in effect before the Negro Act, but had not been strictly enforced (Morgan 1998).

Slaveholders perceived enslaved African Americans as a constant threat to their security, particularly in times of war. “The Villany [sic] of the Negroes in any Emergency of Gov’t is [what] I always feared,” Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie declared in 1755 as French and Indian troops fought British colonial forces in Virginia. Isolated insurrections and reports of conspiracies kept white authorities on edge throughout British colonial America. More often, Africans and African Americans fought along side of colonial Whites in their wars (Wood 1974).

Fighting their Way to Freedom

Military service was a common avenue African American men took to gain freedom. African and African American men, enslaved and free, from the South and the North, served in every war of consequence during the colonial period. Sometimes slaveholders sent enslaved men to the front to fight in their place or to do the menial labor entailed in building fortifications and supporting fighting troops. In other cases, African runaways posed as free persons in order to serve on ships or to enlist as soldiers. The newspapers of the colonial period often mention these facts in their advertisements of fugitive slaves.

Drawing of African American Revolutionary War soldier.

Between 1675 and 1739, the Southern colonies were almost constantly involved in fighting Indians or the Spanish. Southern planters were hesitant about arming Africans, as evidenced by the periodic legislation they passed prohibiting “Negro[es], mulatto[s] or Indian[s] from the military or bearing arms.” However, expedience required that equally as often the Virginians and South Carolina planters recruited Negro [es] to fight in militia or serve as “pioneers, or “slave cowboys” to protect their settlements. In 1703, the South Carolina assembly offered to free any slave who captured or killed hostile Native Americans. Beginning as early as 1705, free “negroes and mulattoes became subject to enrollment in the militia. Unlike white persons, they were required to muster for service without bringing arms. Several acts passed by the colonial assembly between 1723 and 1757 if they were to enroll for service as drummers, fifers, trumpeters, or “pioneers,” but not as regular soldiers (Jackson 1942:251). The rank of “pioneer” gave them a special place as laborers and menial servants. Many were freed for their services, but not all.

During the Revolutionary War some Africans fought on the side of the Patriots, others fought on the side of the Loyalists, all if enslaved fought in order to gain their freedom from enslavement.

The British made the first move to enlist blacks. In November 1775 Lord Dunmore, the British colonial governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation that all slaves belonging to rebels would be received into the British forces and freed for their services. African Americans ran away to fight with the British in search of promised freedom for their services. Contemporary estimates of total slave losses in the South run as high as 55,000 and the Revolutionary War historian, David Ramsey, claimed that South Carolina alone loss 25,000 slaves (Crow 1980 as cited in Frey 1983:376; Ramsay 1858 as cited in Frey 1983:376). Jefferson calculated Virginia’s fugitives to be “30,000 in the one year of 1778.” Not all fled to fight. Many used the confusion of war to simply run away to the north. Tens of thousands of slaves escaped from Southern plantations, and over a thousand fought for the British, 800 from Virginia, in exchange for their freedom once the war was over.

In early 1775, Washington ordered that “Neither Negroes, boys unable to bear arms, nor old men unfit to endure the fatigues of the campaign are to be enlisted in the Continental Army (Jackson 1942:251). Washington reversed his decision and the “Ethiopian Regiment” of Virginia was formed the same month as Lord Dunmore’s proclamation.

The British invasion of Virginia during the Revolutionary War increased slaveholders’ fear of an uprising of enslaved peoples. Robert Henry Lee, a landlord who derived his income from tenant rents and hire of slaves, wrote his brother, Arthur: ‘Tis said that 2 or 3000 negroes march in their train, that every kind of Stock which they cannot remove they destroy–eating up the green wheat and by destroying of the fences, expose destruction the other growing grains. (Frey, 1991:167).

The hope of freedom in return for service led many enslaved African Americans to leave the plantation to follow the British Army. No exact statistics are available on the number of enslaved people who reached British sanctuaries, but Thomas Jefferson estimated the number at 30,000 in 1778 alone (Tate 1865:119). In South Carolina, some 5000 enslaved people left the plantation to follow the British. The British confiscated other enslaved people from patriots. The British organized the Africans following them as laborers, paying them small sums in principal, although they charged them for clothes and upkeep, thus leaving them with little actual monetary gain. The act of paying for labor defused the potential for rebellion and led to many courageous acts on the part of the African Americans.

The Virginia Assembly passed legislation in 1780 that rewarded white recruits to the Continental Army with: “300 acres of land and a healthy, sound negro between the ages of 10 and 30 years,” (Statutes S:326 as cited in Schmidt and Grundset 2001:133–134). As a result, General Sumter and Pickens seized enslaved people who were owned by Loyalists and gave them as bounty to recruits into the Revolutionary Army. Whites from as far away as Virginia and North Carolina left backwoods farms to fight and received a bounty of enslaved people as their reward. Virginia also purchased or hired enslaved African Americans to work in lead mines, producing salt, saltpeter and firearms for the Continental Army (Schmidt and Grundset 2001:133–134).

Both the Patriots and the Loyalists reached out to Virginian African Americans to serve as watermen. They were highly skilled in navigating the Chesapeake Bay and the inland waterways. In all, over 500 free African American men and a smaller number of slaves from Virginia served in the war as seamen or soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

In Maryland the other part of the Chesapeake region, minorities were not considered to be among the optional sources for filling quotas in the Continental Army or the militia units until enlistment shortfalls made it expedient to broaden the base of eligible persons. A “Return of the Negroes in the Army, August 24, 1778” indicates there were about 95 “Negroes” among the Maryland troops. However find the identification of these men is difficult because they were rarely identified by race on muster rolls. By 1780 Maryland was ready to accept enlistments from any source and more “negroes” enlisted. In 1781 Charles Carroll wrote his father “ we shall pass a law tomorrow for raising a Negro regiment of 750—every person having six Negroes between fourteen and forty-five years of age may have a Negro taken from him if the Negro should be willing to enlist for the war (Maryland State Archives, 84:297 as cited by Kreinheder and Schmidt 2001:121).

The North Carolina General Assembly initiated a draft in 1777 providing “that all men within the ages of 16 and 50 were liable to serve…[in the Continental Army]…or find an able bodied man to take their place” There were no color qualifications made in the act. The fact that men of “mixed colors” participated in North Carolina military units is evident from many sources (Schmidt 2001:159).

Georgia, not even 50 years a colony at the onset of the War, had about 18,000 enslaved people in its population even though they declared their “abhorrence of the unnatural practice on slavery,” in their 1775 declaration of support for the patriots in Boston and Massachusetts and for the Revolutionary War to come. Georgia used the conflict to try to improve relationships with the American Indians in the colony. The Georgia records of minorities’ service in the military are not always clear. The National Society of the daughters of the American Revolution authenticated records identify 4 “Black” and (1) “Indian” soldiers from Georgia (2001:1181–182). The Revolutionary War was not exclusively a “Man’s World.” Four women have been authenticated in southern colonial records of Africans and Indians serving in the Revolutionary War. Sarah a “Black” woman worked in the lead mines of Virginia, Catherine the Grenadier, also known as the Shawnee woman, served in the Continental Army as did Nancy Ward another Indian woman from North Carolina. Patty was a “Black” seamstress, whose name is found in The papers of Henry Laurens, performed military service for South Carolina (African American and American Indian Patriots of the American Revolution, 2001:148, 153,166, 182).

The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution authenticated record of African American participants is the most extensive found in the literature and has been cross-referenced with earlier publications of documented lists. This chart summarizes the authenticated records of African American men who served during the Revolutionary War by the colony for whom they served and the type of service they performed.

African American Men in Revolutionary War.

During the final months of the British Occupation of South Carolina, in 1781, General Leslie Clark formed African Americans into unit called Leslie’s “Black Dragoons.” From the patriots’ point of view, Frey comments, “The knowledge that hundreds of self-liberated slaves were in possession of weapons caused resentment and detestation (Frey 1991:125–167).” The British went on to form autonomous “Negro” units for service in Florida and the West Indies. Their service convinced others that the best solution to British military problems in the West Indies was to enlist slaves by offering them freedom. The British subsequently sent black regiments for service in Saint Domingue during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars (Frey 1991).

After the war, the “Negro” soldiers and seamen of Virginia were liberally rewarded in money, land bounties, and granted them pensions. In common with other states, Virginia also provided for the manumission of some slaves who fought. However, they had to petition the courts to gain freedom and were not successful until ten or more years after the struggle. In the next century, the children of African American Revolutionary War veterans who did not receive land, petitioned the State of Virginia for land, and received it (Jackson 1942). Before the war was over, more than 5000 African Americans from almost all colonies served in the Revolutionary Army. Learn More about African Americans in the Revolutionary War.

From the perspective of enslaved African Americans, becoming a part of the military on either side in the Revolutionary War had immediate and far-reaching positive effects. Both sides promised freedom to enslaved African Americans.

Freedom for a People

Aside from the obvious advantage for individuals of joining the military as an avenue to freedom, there were unforeseen and far-reaching outcomes. Service in the military on either side brought together large groups of people of African descent and varied geographical places as well as with differing enslavement experiences. It allowed African peoples on British mainland North America and those in the Caribbean to begin to see themselves as part of a people with a shared history and shared experiences.

A people’s shared history, their selective memories of places, landscapes, and events, elements of a past remembered or forgotten in common are also crucial in creation of an “imagined community” through which heterogeneous individuals and groups come to see themselves in a collective identity with a common present and future (Anderson 1991). Out of a shared history comes the foundation for building community, society, and nation.

As the 18th century closed, the Haitian Revolution not only proved to enslaved African Americans and American slave owners alike that enslaved African people were ready to revolt and willing to die for their freedom, but also that success was possible. Moreover, the post-revolutionary Haitian nation proved that Africans in the New World could govern themselves.

The voices of 18th century African Americans enslaved in the South are rarely heard. It is significant and exciting to discover the earliest known written expression by enslaved people was a passionate appeal for liberation by a Virginia slave in 1723. This anonymous letter, located at the Lambeth Palace Library, is the earliest known plea for freedom and is an eloquent protest against slavery and a reasoned argument for liberation. The transcription by Thomas Ingersoll is reproduced here in its entirety:

“Release us out of this Cruell Bondegg” An Appeal from Virginia 1723

Transcription by Thomas N. Ingersoll


August the forth 1723

To the Right Righ Raverrand father in god my Lord arch Bishop of Lonnd
This coms to sattesfie you honour that there is in this land of verJennia a sort of people that is calld molatters which are Baptised and brouaht up in the way of the Christian faith and the and followes the wayes and Rulles of the Church of England and sum of them has white fathers and sum white mothers and there is in this Land a L a Law or act which keeps and makes them there seed Slaves forever ----
and most honoured sir a mongst the Rest of you Charitabell acts and deed wee humbly your humbell and pou poore parishinners doo begg Sir your aid and assistance in this one thing wich Lise as I doo understand of in your LordShips brest which is that yr honour yr honour will by the help of our Suffervering [i.e. soverign] Lord King George and the Rest of the Rullers will release us out of this Cruell Bondegg and this wee beg for Jesus Christs his of Sake who has commaded us to seeke first the kingdom of god god and all things shall be addid un un to us and here it is to bee noted that one brother is a Slave to another and one Sister to an othe which is quite out the way and as for mee [ cancellation] my selfe I am my brothers Slave but my name is Secrett

And here it is to bee notd againe that wee were commanded to keep holey the Sabbath day and wee doo hardly know when it comes for our [ cancellation] task mastrs are has hard with us as the Egypttions was with the Chilldan of Issarall god be marcifll unto us

[second page]

here follows our hard service Devarity and Sorrowfull Sarvicer we are hard used up on Every account wee f in the first place wee are in Ignorance of our Salvation and in the next place weee are kept out of the Church and and matrimony is denied us
and to be plain they doo Look no more up on us then if wee ware dogs which I hope when these Strange Lines comes to your Lod Ships will be looket in to
and here wee beg for Jesus Christs his Sake that as your honour do hope for the marcy of god att the day of death and the Redemtion of our Saviour Christ that when this comes to your Lord Ships hands your honor wll Take Sum pitty of
us who is your humble butt Sorrowfull portitinors
and Sir wee your humble perticners do humbllly beg the favour of your Lord Ship that your honour will grant and Settell one thing upon us which is that our ch childarn may be broatt up in the way of the Christtian faith and our desire is that they may be Larnd the Lords prayer the creed and the ten commandements and that they may appeare Every Lord’s day att Church before the C Curatt to bee Exammond for our desire is that godllines Should abound amongs us and wee desire is that our Childarn be putt to Scool and and Larnd to Reed through the BYbell

[third page]

which is all att prasant with our prayers to god for itts good Success
before your honour these from your humbell Servants in the Lord
my Riting is vary bad I whope yr honur will take the will for the deede
I am but a poore Slave th that writt itt and has no other tinme time butt
Audrey and hardly that att Sumtimes
September 8th 1723j
To the Right Reverrand Father in d god
My Lord arch bishop of J Londons
These with care
Wee dare nott Suscrivbe any mans name to this for feare of our masters if or if
They knew that wee have Sent home to you honour wee Should goo neare to swing upon the galas tree

(Anonymous 1723)

As time passed, the earnest plea of this anonymous enslaved person or persons, was heard more frequently, mostly in the Northern colonies as African Americans became more literate and more vocal. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, the northern states of the new republic set about freeing enslaved people and passing laws eliminating slavery. Many Revolutionary War veterans were among the first to be freed. Some of the African Americans who had fought on the side of the Loyalists and the British were relocated in Canada where they formed communities. Some runaways sought to join their ranks. Other runaways from the South joined the ranks of free African Americans in the North or in Florida.

The growing class of free African Americans established their own social institutions including churches, schools, and benevolent societies. Through the agency of these institutions, free African Americans agitated for manumission of their less fortunate brothers and sisters, lobbied for an end to the slave trade and of the institution of slavery. They couched their arguments in the language of human rights, democratic principles and became in a sense the conscience of the nation. This relatively small group grew over the next 70 years forming an African American body politic, that was instrumental in building the United States economically and, through their agitation for the abolition of slavery, served as a constant reaffirmation of the democratic ideals upon which the Nation was built.

The next module to be developed examines the cultural heritage of colonial Africans and African Americans in the north and their contributions to national independence and establishment of the New Republic.