Deeply influenced by region and military necessity.
Before the 1770s, blacks had served in militia companies in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Islands, and Massachusetts. But once the new states set up militias, the topic of black service began anew.
In Massachusetts, after some debate in 1775, welcomed free backs into the militia, but almost certainly some slaves served as well.
New Jersey's Militia Act of May 1777 permitted masters to enlist slaves as substitutes. New Hampshire opened the door to the recruitment of slaves to fill the state's Continental quota in the fall of that year, and Connecticut soon followed suit.
In 1778 Rhode Island and Massachusetts raised all back regiments, offering to buy slaves from their masters and emancipate them if thy joined the militia and Virginia welcomed free blacks into the militia.
In October 1780, Maryland accepted "any able-bodied slave between 16 and 40 years of age, who voluntarily enters into service . . . with the consent and agreement of his master." New York would begin to recruit slaves in March 1781.
By 1779, only Georgia and South Carolina rejected the presence of black soldiers in the state militias.
Of the more than 200,000 soldiers who served in the American cause, some 5,000 were African American and more than 700 free Haitian blacks served with French forces aiding the Americans.
At the Continental level , Washington is chosen as commander in part to cement a regional relationship protecting slavery.
In response to Dunmore, Washington reverses his opposition to black troops, at first accepting free blacks and eventually embracing a policy of compensated emancipation for slaves whose masters allowed them to serve.
While the Articles of Confederation do not address slavery directly, they do nothing to prohibit or weaken slavery in the various states.
With the exception of South Carolina and Georgia, the Revolutionary experience had a destructive impact on Slavery in the state law.
A combination of outright emancipation, gradual emancipation, court ordered emancipation, and laws easing the conditions for manumission passed in almost every state, with all northern states choosing some form of abolition.
In 1782, Virginia only 1,800 free blacks lived among some 218,000 enslaved Africans, or fewer than one percent. In 1790, there were 12,766 free blacks, or some 4.2%.
Black Paths to Liberation during the Revolutionary Era
Fighting for the British and American Causes.
Petitioning for Freedom.
Running away, primarily to the “west” or to the British lines.
Jefferson estimated that as many as 30,000 Virginia slaves ran away 1778.
Between 1775 and 1783, South Carolina lost 25,000 slaves and Georgia perhaps 75% of their 15,0000 slaves.
John Adams on The Stamp Act, 1865 “ We won’t be their Negroes. Providence had never intended the American colonists for Negroes…and therefore never intended us for slaves….I say we are as handsome as old English folks, and so should be free.” From Slavery to Freedom , 9 th Edition, 85.
Prince Hall Petition to Massachusetts Legislature to Abolish Slavery, 1777 It have Never Bin Considered that Every Principle from which America has Acted in the Course of their unhappy Difficulties with Great Briton Pleads Stronger than A thousand arguments in favors of your petitioners they therfor humble Beseech your honours to give this petition its due weight and consideration & cause an act of the legislature to be past Wherby they may be Restored to the Enjoyments of that which is the Natural right of all men and their Children who wher Born in this Land of Liberty may not be held as Slaves after they arrive at the age of twenty one years
The following letter appeared in Connecticut Gazette, March 11, 1774, written by Wheatley to Reverend Samson Occum, 11 February 1774 : "I have this Day received your obliging, kind Epistle, and am greatly satisfied with your Reasons respecting the negroes, and think highly reasonable what you offer in Vindication of their natural Rights: Those that invade them cannot be insensible that the divine Light is insensibly chasing away the thick Darkness which broods over the Land of Africa; and the Chaos which has reigned so long is converting into beautiful Order, and reveals more and more clearly the glorious Dispensation of civil and religious Liberty, which are so inseparably united, that there is little or no Enjoyment of one without the other: Otherwise, perhaps the Israelites had been less solicitous for their Freedom from Egyptian slvery; I do not say they would have been contented without it, by no means, for in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of oppression, and pants for Deliverance--and by the Leave of our modern Egyptians I will assert that the same principle lives in us . God grant Deliberance in his own Way and Time, and get him honour upon all those whose Avarice impels them to countenance and help forward the Calamities of their fellow Creatures. This I desire not for their Hurt, but to convince them of the strange Absurdity of their Conduct whose Words and Actions are so diametrically opposite, How well the Cry for Liberty, and the reverse Disposition for the exercise of oppressive power over others agree I humbly think it does not require the penetration of a Philosopher to determine ."
Partial Petition for Freedom 1873: one of five presented to the Massachusetts legislature between 1773-74
Sir, The efforts made by the legislative of this province in their last sessions to free themselves from slavery, gave us, who
are in that deplorable state, a high degree of satisfaction. We expect great things from men who have made such a
noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them. We cannot but wish and hope Sir, that you will have
the same grand object, we mean civil and religious liberty, in view in your next session. The divine spirit of freedom,
seems to fire every humane breast on this continent, except such as are bribed to assist in executing the execrable plan.
We are very sensible that it would be highly detrimental to our present masters, if we were allowed to demand all that
of right belongs to us for past services; this we disclaim. Even the Spaniards, who have not those sublime ideas of
freedom that English men have, are conscious that they have no right to all the services of their fellow-men, we mean
the Africans, whom they have purchased with their money ; therefore they allow them one day in a week to work for
themselves, to enable them to earn money to purchase the residue of their time, which they have a right to demand in
such portions as they are able to pay for (a due appraizement of their services being first made, which always stands at
the purchase money.) We do not pretend to dictate to you Sir, or to the Honorable Assembly, of which you are a member.
We acknowledge our obligations to you for what you have already done, but as the people of this province seem to be
actuated by the principles of equity and justice, we cannot but expect your house will again take our deplorable case into
serious consideration, and give us that ample relief which, as men, we have a natural right to.
But since the wise and righteous governor of the universe, has permitted our fellow men to make us slaves, we bow in
submission to him, and determine to behave in such a manner as that we may have reason to expect the divine
approbation of, and assistance in, our peaceable and lawful attempts to gain our freedom.
We are willing to submit to such regulations and laws, as may be made relative to us, until we leave the province, which
we determine to do as soon as we can, from our joynt labours, procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the
Coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement. We are very desirous that you should have instructions relative to us,
from your town, therefore we pray you to communicate this letter to them, and ask this favor for us. In behalf of our fellow slaves in this province, and by order of their Committee. Peter Bestes, Sambo Freeman, Felix Holbrook, Chester Joie.
C Carson, E Lapsansky-Werner, G Nash, The Struggle for Freedom
“ From the first colonial protests against British revenue policy in 1765 to the end of the Revolutionary war in 1783, black people staged the most widespread and protracted slave rebellion in American history.”
The 1st Rhode Island Regiment of the Continental Line An Act of the Rhode Island legislature, February, 1778
Whereas, for the preservation of the rights and liberties of the United States, it is necessary that the whole power of Government should be exerted in recruiting the Continental battalions; and, whereas, His Excellency, General Washington, hath inclosed to this State a proposal made to him by Brigadier General Varnum, to enlist into the two battalions raising by this State such slaves as should be willing to enter into the service; and, whereas, history affords us frequent precedents of the wisest, the freest and bravest nations having liberated their slaves and enlisted them as soldiers to fight in defence of their country; and also, whereas the enemy have, with great force, taken possession of the capital and of a great part of this State, and this State is obliged to raise a very considerable number of troops for its own immediate defence, whereby it is in a manner rendered impossible for this State to furnish recruits for the said two battalions without adopting the said measures so recommended,
It is Voted and Resolved, That every able-bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man-slave in this State may enlist into either of the said two battalions, to serve during the continuance of the present war with Great Britain; That every slave so enlisting shall be entitled to and receive all the bounties, wages and encouragements allowed by the Continental Congress to any soldiers enlisting into this service.
It in further Voted and Resolved, That every slave so enlisting shall, upon his passing muster by Col. Christopher Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free, as though he had never been incumbered and be incumbered with any kind of servitude or slavery. And in case such slave shall, by sickness or otherwise, be rendered unable to maintain himself, he shall not be chargeable to his master or mistress, but shall be supported at the expense of the State.
And, whereas, slaves have been by the laws deemed the property of their owners, and therefore compensation ought to be made to the owners for the loss of their service,
It is further Voted and Resolved, That upon any able-bodied negro, mulatto or Indian slave enlisting as aforesaid, the officer who shall so enlist him, after he has passed muster as aforesaid, shall deliver a certificate thereof to the master or mistress of said negro, mulatto or Indian slave, which shall discharge him from the service of said master or mistress.