African Americans at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

Portrait of elderly Black man
Agrippa Hull
Continental Army veteran

Black Military Service during the Revolutionary War

Sentiment against the institution of slavery reached a peak in the year leading up to the Revolutionary War. Such vocal criticisms of slavery would not be heard again in the United States until the abolitionists of the Antebellum Era. Thousands of Native Americans and Blacks paid close attention to the colonial crisis. African Americans, both free and enslaved, viewed the conflict with Great Britain as an opportunity to challenge the legal, social, or economic obstacles that bound their lives.

"How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" - Dr. Samuel Johnson, Taxation No Tyranny (1775)

Principled stands against slavery flew against the need for colonial unity in the war with Britain. Following the opening shots of the conflict at Lexington and Concord, royal officials began to draft plans on how to use Native American and Black assistance in putting down the rebellion. Royal Governor Lord Dunmore of Virginia issued a proclamation in November 1775, offering freedom to all enslaved people who abandoned their Patriot owners to join the British. Thousands of enslaved people joined British forces during the war. The short lived success of Dunmore's Proclamation terrified White slaveholders in the South, prompting those undecided to embrace the Patriot cause.

The Revolutionary War proved to be the nation's largest enslaved rebellion until the Civil War. An estimated 20,000 Blacks fought for the British while only 5,000 to 6,000 Blacks fought for the cause of independence. The majority of African Americans saw greater chances to better their lives and free themselves of enslavement by serving the British. Historians have estimated the number of freedom seekers, enslaved people abandoning Patriot enslavers, as high as 80 - 100,000.

The "Book of Negroes", which documented the Blacks who evacuated New York City in 1783, and other military records place 8,000 to 10,000 Blacks surviving the conflict to evacuate in freedom with the British. Free blacks pursued new lives throughout the Atlantic world in the British Empire. Blacks established sizable freedmen communities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. However, the British did not pursue a universal policy of emancipation. White Loyalists took enslaved men, women, and children they held in bondage to new plantations in East Florida, the Bahamas, and Jamaica.


Black Patriots at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse pitted 4,400 Americans, commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, against 1,900 British and Hessian soldiers, commanded by Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis. In the ranks of the 4,400 Americans, an unknown number of Black soldiers served. National Park Service staff have found documentation to attest to the participation of 45 Black Patriots in the battle. Research continues, and staff hope to uncover additional stories of service.

An unknown number of enslaved joined their enslavers on campaign. Cyfax Brown sent a letter, dated May 15, 1822 to St. George Tucker, his enslaver, reminding Tucker of his service at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and asking for financial assistance in his advanced age.

The Black Patriots of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse:

Adam Adams - First Maryland Regiment John Hammond - Anson County, NC Militia Thomas Mason - Caswell County, NC Militia
Jacob Blake - First Maryland Regiment Lazarus Harman - First Maryland Regiment Ambrose Month - VA Brigade, Continentals
Willis Boon - Washington's Legion, Continentals Edward Harris - VA Brigade, Continentals Bazaleel Norman - First Maryland Regiment
Cyfax Brown - Prince Edward County, VA Militia Sherwood Harris - NC Continentals Andrew Pebbles - Lee's Legion, Continentals
Isaac Brown - VA Brigade, Continentals Nathaniel Harrison - Continental Army Richard Pendergrass - Caswell County, NC Militia
Thomas Carney - First Maryland Regiment Henry (last name uknown) - Waggoner Jesse Peters - VA Brigade, Continentals
Edward Coleman - Continental Army Micajah Hicks - NC Continentals John Pipisco - VA Brigade, Continentals
Francis Coley - Brunswick County, VA Militia Henry Hill - VA Brigade, Continentals Record Primes - NC Continentals
Mason Collins - VA Brigade, Continentals Major Hitchens - Delaware Regiment Dempsey Reed - Mecklenburg County, NC Militia
William Cuff - VA Brigade, Continentals Agrippa Hull - Continental Army John Rolls (Rawls) - VA Brigade, Continentals
Andrew Ferguson - Dinwiddie County, VA Militia Zachariah Jacobs - Brunswick County, NC Militia Daniel Strother - Waggoner
George (last name unknown) - Second Maryland Regiment George Kendall - VA Brigade, Continentals Ishmael Titus - Rowan County, NC Militia
John Gibson - Guilford County, NC Militia Moses Knight - Continental Army John Toney - Powhatan County, VA Militia
Edward Going - Warren County, NC Militia William Lomack - NC Continentals Matthew Williams - VA Brigade, Continentals
William Going - NC Continentals Robin Loyd - VA Brigade, Continentals David Wilson - First Maryland Regiment

Image of Edward Coleman's pension statement, ink splatters across the top
Edward Coleman Pension Statement
Signed June 19, 1829

National Archives and Records Administration

Biographical Sketches of Patriots

Isaac Brown enlisted for the term of eighteen months at Charles City Courthouse, Virginia on September 12, 1780 at the age of 18. He was mustered in the regiment commanded by Col. Richard Campbell of the Virginia Line. He fought in the battles of Guilford Courthouse, the Siege of Ninety-Six, and Eutaw Springs. He applied for a pension on May 19, 1829 at Charles City Courthouse. In the application, he stated that he owned 70 acres of exhausted land and that his family consisted of a "wife who is now old and infirm, a son of about 20 years of age, who has been for years past afflicted with a grievous issue, and is a weighty expense to him, being unable to work except in light and indifferent matters, his right arm and right leg being almost entirely disabled, and a daughter above 21 years of age who has an infant Child of four years of age."

Thomas Carney enlisted in the Maryland Continental line in 1778 after a term of service in the militia the previous year. He fought in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, Hobkirk Hill, Guilford Courthouse, and Eutaw Springs. He saved the life of his company officer, Captain Perry Benson, at the Siege of Ninety-Six. Carney was mustered out of service with the rest of the Maryland Line at Annapolis in 1783, effectively serving the entire war. Carney filed for a pension in 1818 and received $40 annually from the state of Maryland. On July 22, 1828 Maryland's Daily National Intelligencer informed readers of the death of a brave and honorable Revolutionary War veteran. The obituary for Carney told of his "privation and suffering," his exploits in battle, and his dedication to his fellow soldiers. "Near the village of Denton, in Maryland," it read, had died Thomas Carney, "a colored man, at the advanced age of 74." A historic marker dedicated to Carney stands in front of the Caroline County Circuit Courthouse in Denton, Maryland today. It was dedicated in 2022.

Andrew Ferguson was about 15 years old when he fought at the Battle of Cowpens. In his pension application, he stated that he arrived late to the Battle of Kings Mountain. He also said, “While we were at the River Pacolet, the British under Colonel Tarleton came upon us and Colonel [sic] Morgan marched us on towards the Cowpens but before we got there we made a stand and whipped the British completely. This took place I think sometime in the month of January 1781. Immediately after this Battle we started back to North Carolina…” At Guilford Courthouse, he suffered a wound to the head. Ferguson settled in Indiana after the war. He died in 1855 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1984, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a marker on his grave.

Micajah Hicks enlisted in the Continental Army for three years in June 1779 and was attached to the 1st Regiment of the North Carolina Line. He became a prisoner of war after the surrender of Charleston. After six months of confinement on a prison ship, he escaped and joined General Nathanael Greene's army at Charlotte, North Carolina. He participated in the Battles of Guilford Courthouse and Eutaw Springs. A farmer by profession, Hicks applied for a pension in May 1829, citing no family members and poor health.

Thomas Mason was born in 1760 and served tours with the Caswell County, North Carolina militia. He was wounded in the hand at Guilford Courthouse; he survived the war but died before the government began issuing pensions. When his wife and son applied for his pension, they were denied.

Andrew Pebbles was born in 1744 and served numerous tours in various Virginia units. He served in Light Horse Harry Lee's Legion at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He suffered three wounds at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, fought outside of Charleston on September 8, 1781. Pebbles survived the war, received a pension, and after his death, the state of Virginia awarded a land bounty to his heirs for his service.

Primes or Primus applied for a pension on December 16, 1846 while residing in Roane County, Tennessee at the age of 86 years old. He stated that he enlisted in 1777. He was taken prisoner at the surrender of Charleston and paroled. He violated his parole and rejoined the army. He was taken prisoner and released again at Gum Swamp. He was wounded in the head at Camden. He stated that he was also in the Battles of Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, Eutaw Springs, and the siege of Yorktown. However, his pension claim was denied.

Last updated: May 10, 2024

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