African Americans

Free and enslaved African Americans played a significant role for both the United States and Great Britain in the War of 1812. For some, it brought the chance for a new life.

Military service was an alternative to working in the maritime industries where many free African Americans were employed in jobs such as caulkers. The British blockade severely curtailed those jobs in the war years. It is estimated that as many as 20 percent of privateer crews were African American, and up to 10 percent of crews on US Navy vessels. Free African Americans also served in the US Chesapeake Flotilla.

For enslaved people, joining the British brought freedom. When the British arrived in the Chesapeake Bay in 1813, enslaved people sought their freedom by rowing out to British boats, usually in the night. But such attempts were relatively small until the spring of 1814 when Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane issued a proclamation offering Americans—but intended to mean the enslaved population—to join the British land or sea services, or to move as free settlers to British processions in North America or the West Indies.

To learn more, read the article Fighting for Freedom: African Americans and the War of 1812, watch the PBS video, Blacks in the War, or click on a story below.


  • Charles Ball
    Charles Ball

    Charles Ball joined the US Navy Flotilla during the war and participated in Battles of St. Leonard Creek and Bladensburg.

  • Hetty Boulden
    Hetty Boulden

    Enslaved 20-year old Hetty Boulden reportedly helped save the town of Elkton, MD from being attacked by British troops during the War.

  • An older Black man sitting for a photo.
    Gabriel Hall

    Gabriel Hall's photo is the only surviving photograph of a Black American who sought freedom with the British during the War of 1812.

  • An engraving of an old town with brick buildings, horse-drawn carts, and people walking around.
    Lucinda "Lucy" Hall

    Enslaved in Southern Maryland, Lucy Hall sought freedom with the British and resettled with her family in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

  • A plantation with a large old house in the background.
    Frisby Harris

    Formerly enslaved Frisby Harris joined the British military and became a Corporal in the Colonial Marines.

  • Paul Jennings
    Paul Jennings

    Paul Jennings, enslaved to James Madison, wrote one of the first memoirs about life at the White House.

  • image of a muster roll from 1814
    Samuel Neale

    Learn how pension records revealed the long-overlooked service of Surgeon's Aide Samuel Neale.

  • George Roberts
    George Roberts

    George Roberts, a free African American seamen who was a gunner on the privateer CHASSEUR, participated in several battles while at sea.

  • Two headstones with a red flower resting on top. The headstone on top has a crest of military honors
    James Robinson

    James Robinson fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 as an enslaved Black man.

  • A lithograph with boats sailing in the foreground and buildings and smokestack in the background.
    Michael Shiner

    Michael Shiner was a Black dock worker on the Washington Navy Yard and witnessed the burning of Washington D.C. as a child.

  • Text on a white newspaper page from the mid-1800s.

    Sukey was Dolley Madison's enslaved maid who helped save valuables from the White House.

  • William Willams (Frederick Hall)
    William Willams (Frederick Hall)

    Frederick Hall, a freedom-seeking enslaved person, enlisted in the 38th US Infantry and served as one of the defenders of Fort McHenry.

  • Grace Wisher, an African American indentured servant, helped made the Star-Spangled banner.
    Grace Wisher

    Grace Wisher, a young African American indentured servant, is believed to have helped in the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner.



Last updated: February 16, 2024

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