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1775The American Revolution

The Battle of Cowpens, painted by William Ranney in 1845

The Battle of Cowpens

Revolutionary Necessity

Image of muster roll document

Revolutionary War Muster Roll of Black and Indigenous Soldiers

Image of muster roll document

Revolutionary War Muster Roll of Black and Indigenous Soldiers

Enslaved and free Black people used the American Revolution to pursue their own freedom. They chose strategically to side with either the British Loyalists or American colonist Patriots. Colonists fought in the American Revolution, a war for freedom from Britain, yet they maintained enslavement in all 13 colonies.

Although free Black men were part of colonial militias prior to the Revolutionary War and also a critical part of the Continental Army, George Washington initially forbade their recruitment, fearing it would challenge ideas of white manhood and encourage armed insurrection against enslavers. After the British offered freedom to Black men in exchange for service, Washington wrote, “We must use the Negroes or run the risk of losing the war.” In February 1778, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to allow non-white men to enlist, who would be “immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free.”

Image of Loyalists’ Certificate of Freedom document

Cato Ramsay's Passport for Emigration to Nova Scotia, 1783

Image of Loyalists’ Certificate of Freedom document

Cato Ramsay's Passport for Emigration to Nova Scotia, 1783

Enslaved Africans joined the British after Dunmore’s Proclamation in November 1775, which promised freedom for those enslaved by “revolutionaries.” The Proclamation bolstered British forces, but also attempted to incite rebellion among the enslaved and force the colonists to abandon their efforts. Between 800 and 2,000 enslaved black people found freedom with the 1779 Philipsburg Proclamation, which freed all enslaved people owned by revolutionaries. More enslaved people found freedom through these Proclamations than through any other means until the Civil War.

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Law

African Americans established schools for their communities and have taken innovative approaches to education while challenging segregation and discrimination.

People waiting in line to vote

Land and Housing

Landownership provides autonomy and capital and serves to pass down wealth from one generation to the next.

Photograph of Louis Manigault, Jr. in a field

Education

African Americans established schools for their communities and have taken innovative approaches to education while challenging segregation and discrimination.

Photograph of Geoffrey Canada engaging with students

Health

Structural racism and racist beliefs about African Americans shape access to care and health outcomes.

Black women in masks at a protest

Law

African Americans established schools for their communities and have taken innovative approaches to education while challenging segregation and discrimination.

People waiting in line to vote

Land and Housing

Landownership provides autonomy and capital and serves to pass down wealth from one generation to the next.

Photograph of Louis Manigault, Jr. in a field

Education

African Americans established schools for their communities and have taken innovative approaches to education while challenging segregation and discrimination.

Photograph of Geoffrey Canada engaging with students

Health

Structural racism and racist beliefs about African Americans shape access to care and health outcomes.

Black women in masks at a protest