African American Patriots at the Siege of Ninety Six


African Americans contributed to both Loyalist and the Patriot forces during the 1781 siege. Loyalists used enslaved African Americans primarily to build fortifications and perform other noncombat work.[i] African Americans provided similar work for Patriot forces, but many also served as soldiers in the Continental Army and militia units that took part in the siege.[ii]

It is difficult to know how many African American soldiers were present in the Patriot force conducting the siege. Most unit muster rolls did not specify the race of soldiers. An August 1778 report to General George Washington indicated African Americans were three to four percent of the Continental Army force. This suggests as many as 65 African American soldiers may have fought at Ninety Six.[iii] Those soldiers would have belonged to several units, including the famed Maryland Brigade. These are the stories of a few of those Patriots.

Agrippa Hull

Agrippa Hull served at Ninety Six as the orderly of Colonel Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish military engineer who oversaw the construction of the Patriot siege works there. Hull was born on 7 March 1759 to freed bondsman in Northampton, Massachusetts.[iv] His father died when Hull was just an infant, and his mother struggled to provide for her son. Hull went to live with a free Black farming family in Stockbridge, a town made up of Native Americans, free Black families, and white families.[v]

Shortly after his 18th birthday in 1777, Hull enlisted in the Continental Army and was assigned as an orderly to Major General John Paterson. He saw British General John Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga and endured Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. In May 1779, Hull began serving with Kosciuszko when the engineer was building the defenses at West Point.[vi] The two men became close friends, and Hull stayed with Kosciuszko during the heaviest fighting in the Southern theater. Hull fought in the Battle of Cowpens, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the Siege of Ninety-Six, and the Battle of Eutaw Springs. It was during this last battle that Hull assisted surgeons treating wounded Patriot soldiers.[vii]

After the war, Hull returned to West Point and received his discharge from the Continental Army in July 1783. Reportedly, Hull turned down an offer from Kosciuszko to settle in Poland.[viii] Hull instead returned to Stockbridge and found work as the assistant to Theodore Sedgewick, a young lawyer who had recently won a landmark anti-slavery case before the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Hull also was a shrewd buyer of real estate and became the largest African American landowner in Stockbridge.[ix]

In 1785, Hull married Jane Darby, an freedom seeker who had gained her freedom with Sedgewick’s help.[x] After Jane’s death, Hull married Margaret Tembrook in 1813. He adopted Mary Tilden, the daughter of a freedom seeker from New York, and he had another daughter and two sons.[xi] Hull died on 21 May 1848 and is buried in the Stockbridge Congregational Church cemetery.

Thomas Carney

At the time of the Siege of Ninety Six, Thomas Carney was a member of the 2nd Regiment of the famed Maryland Continental Brigade. A free African American, Carney was born in 1754 and lived in Caroline County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In the spring or summer of 1777, he enlisted as a private with the Maryland militia. Carney fought in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown later that autumn.[xii]

Carney endured the cold winter of December 1777-78 with the rest of the Continental Army at Valley Forge. He probably was part of a detachment that was stationed at a strategic bend in the Delaware River near Wilmington, Delaware rather than at the main camp. In May 1778, Carney enlisted in the 5th Maryland Regiment of the Continental Line and transferred to the 7th Maryland Regiment a month later.[xiii] Carney probably did not see action again until his brigade traveled south during the spring of 1780.[xiv]

At just over six feet tall, and known for his considerable strength, Carney earned a reputation as a fierce fighter. During the Battles of Camden and Guilford Court House, Carney led several bayonet charges against the enemy.[xv] However, it was at the Siege of Ninety Six where his heroics were particularly notable. Carney’s company commander, Captain Perry Benson, was gravely wounded during an assault on the star fort. Under fire, Carney carried Benson back to the surgeon’s tent. His actions saved Benson’s life, and the two men developed a lasting friendship that continued after the war.[xvi]

Carney returned to Caroline County, Maryland in 1783. When he was discharged in November, he received a cash bonus and a land grant of 100 acres. His application for a veteran’s pension indicates that Carney took up farming near the town of Denton, married, and had two daughters. Carney’s pension application was witnessed by his former company commander, Perry Benson.[xvii] Carney died in 1828.[xviii]

Andrew Ferguson

Andrew Ferguson was a free African American who may have served as a private in the 1st Spartan Regiment of the South Carolina militia during the siege.[xix] Born in July 1765 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, Ferguson was 15 years old when he and his father were forced into service with the British. They escaped two weeks later and joined the Patriot militia. Ferguson fought in many of the significant battles in the South, including Camden, King’s Mountain, Cowpens, and Eutaw Springs.[xx] Ferguson was discharged from service near Yorktown, Virginia in late 1781.

Ferguson was wounded in the leg during the Battle of Camden and received a head injury during the Battle of Guilford Court House. A surgeon treated the head wound by inserting a plate reportedly made from hammered silver coins.[xxi] After his discharge, Ferguson required additional hospitalization for his head wound. In 1844, Ferguson cited the increasing pain and disabilities caused by these wounds as justification for an increase in his basic pension of twenty dollars per year.[xxii]

As early as August 1838, Ferguson had moved to Bloomington, Indiana. According to a voucher in the pension documentation, Ferguson died in September or October 1856, at the age of 95.[xxiii]

Adam Adams

Adam Adams was a private in the Maryland Brigade of the Continental Army during the Siege of Ninety Six. Adams was born in 1763 as a free African American and lived in Charles County, Maryland. Like his brother-in-arms Thomas Carney, Adams enlisted in the spring of 1777. Adams was assigned to the 1st Maryland Regiment of the Continental Army and served until the end of the war.[xxiv]

Adams’ pension records do not specify in which battles he fought. As a long-time member of the 1st Maryland Regiment, he probably participated in the Battles of Monmouth, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Court House, the Siege of Ninety Six, and The Battle of Eutaw Springs. He was discharged in November 1783 in Annapolis, Maryland. He returned to Charles County to farm and raise a family. Adams married and had six children.[xxv]

Endnotes and resources

[i]; accessed 12 April 2021

[ii] With a few exceptions, African American soldiers were not segregated in Patriot units. Many were free Blacks who voluntarily enlisted in regional militias or Continental Army units. Others, however, were enslaved men who were sent by their owners to fulfill enlistment quotas, sometimes with the promise of obtaining their freedom at the end of their enlistment. (; accessed 13 April 2021)

[iii]; accessed 13 April 2021

[iv]; accessed 14 April 2021 and; accessed 14 April 2021

[v]; accessed 14 April 2021

[vi]; accessed 14 April 2021

[vii]; accessed 15 April 2021

[viii]; accessed 15 April 2021

[ix]; accessed 15 April 2021

[x]; accessed 15 April 2021

[xi]; accessed 15 April 2021

[xii]; accessed 22 April 2021

[xiii]; accessed 22 April 2021 and; accessed 22 April 2021

[xiv]; accessed 23 April 2021

[xv]; accessed 23 April 2021

[xvi]; accessed 23 April 2021

[xvii];' accessed 23 April 2021

[xviii]; accessed 23 April 2021

[xix] According to Ferguson’s pension, his company commander was Captain William Harris (; accessed 15 April 2021). The Patriot order of battle at the Siege of Ninety Six indicates that Captain William Harris commanded a company of the 1st Spartan Regiment of Militia, suggesting this is the unit to which Ferguson was assigned. (; accessed 15 April 2021)

[xx]; accessed 20 April 2021

[xxi]; accessed 20 April 2021

[xxii]; accessed 20 April 2021

[xxiii]; accessed 20 April 2021

[xxiv]; accessed 26 April 2021

[xxv]; accessed 26 April 2021

Last updated: June 20, 2021

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