African Americans and Slavery
African Americans and Slavery in the Revolutionary period The American Revolution was a time of great turmoil for all men and women in the United States.Great debates came and went during this time; slavery and the freedom of black men being the main problems in these debates.Slaves were used for a great number of things during the American revolutionary period.
The arrival of slavery to the American colonies began in the 1600s and started out in Virginia.
As the years passed more and more African-Americans were brought into the colonies to be used as labor workers. The beginning amount of slaves continued to grow and by the beginning of the revolution there were about 273,000 slaves spread throughout the American states. With the coming of the revolution all African-Americans, slave or free, knew something was coming and each had a different response to these comings. There were differences in the responses of slaves and free men during the American Revolution. There were also consequences to their choices. Gaining freedom in a land of captivity and wresting equality from a society whose founding documents guarantee it has been the consuming desire and everlasting hope that has kept harrowed bodies and weary souls going. ” In the southern states African-American slaves were treated harsher than those in the north. The plantations down south required back –breaking hours of work in the sun that White Americans believed could only be done by those they had bought. There was a reason for them to be there and until they could no longer work they were to do all things imaginable for their owners, no questions asked.
Some of these slaves thought it was easier to run away from their owners and that in doing so they would have a chance to fight for their country. Slaves could either flee to the north or they could flee to Spanish owned Florida. In cases where a master was called upon to fight, they would send a slave in their place and if they lived long enough to return home they earned freedom. Many of the slaves decided that if they had a chance to gain their freedom by joining the war effort then they would gladly take their masters place.
They also believed that with the beginning to the revolutionary period would bring a new deed to the land and when it was over there would no longer be a need for slaves. The consequences for slaves in the south were innumerable. Like many slaves, they took this time to run from slave masters and plantations. If these southern slaves were caught, depending on the owner, the slave could suffer mild to severe consequences. Depending on the demeanor of the owner a slave could be punished in several different ways. Whipping, branding, slapping, being dunked underwater, and kicking were just some forms of punishment.
The most severe punishments were to cut off a body part like an ear in the hopes that the slave would learn and never run again. There were also “nice” slave owners that chose not to punish their slaves. There justification for not punishing their slaves was so that they would continue to work and so that the owner could buy more slaves with the money that they continued to pool in from the work. Because of some owners that continuously harassed Washington, he stopped allowing slaves into his army. But General Washington, fearing rebellion, created an order that stated that all blacks were not allowed to fight.
Later he partially reversed the order and allowed only free black men to fight with him. Some slaves believed that taking a chance to flee towards the north was a far-fetched idea. They were seeking freedom in the quickest possible way. Lord Dunmore sent out a proclamation that stated in exchange for freedom any black that came to him would fight against the patriots and become a loyalist. Dunmore’s promise of freedom fueled black slaves to escape and even some patriots fled to fight as a loyalist. After the war, true to his word, slaves gained their freedom.
Some of these newly freed slaves went to Britain but many of them stayed in the Americas. On the other hand free men in the north believed the revolution would bring about change for the better. Their idea of the revolution was that they were being given the chance to gain independence from Great Britain and also for themselves. It was a defining moment in history that they were to be a part of. Fighting with white men gave these free black men a sense of honor and it also gave them a job where they could earn a little money to put towards getting homes and things of that nature.
Men from the north gradually began to realize that they could fight with their brethren and bring independence to the land. General Washington passed an order stating that no black man was allowed into his army. This order came about because of general angst from some slave owners. These owners believed that there should not be any blacks fighting for the independence because they were only good for being slaves and they would never have say over anything. After some time Washington, fearing not having enough men to fight against the British, partially eversed this order to allow only free black men. Other than this there were not many consequences that are recorded for free black men. These free men not only fought for the independence of the nation but also for their independence and the independence of other black men and women. African-Americans from the north and south chose to join the continental army because they believed that they should help make the place the lived independent from a tyranny that had no say in the matters of a new country. They felt that this tyranny could take their rights and place them under unfair rule once again.
Some of the freemen and slaves that had started out in the continental army decided to run to the British army but were not successful in their plights. Nash called the revolution the ‘greatest slave rebellion in American history’ because it was just that. The revolution opened up new grounds for slaves to rebel against owners because it was the most opportune time for them to do so. “If any group within America’s diversified people came close to answering John Adams’s plea that ‘we must all be soldiers,’ it was black Americans.
No part of revolutionary society responded to the call for arms with anywhere near the enthusiasm of those who were black. Proportionate to their number, African American males— and some females— were more likely to join the fray than white Americans. ” According to this excerpt from another one of Nash’s books, African-Americans were much more adept to answering the plea of John Adams. If there were more African-American fighters than white that meant that more black males were subject to put themselves in danger in order to gain freedom.
They would rather have one day of freedom, not knowing if they would die in the next second, hour, or day, than be a slave for the rest of their lives. This is one of the reasons why Nash called the revolution the ‘greatest slave rebellion in American history’. “Desperate to fill the thinned ranks of its regiments, states offered freedom… to serve during the continuance of the present war with Great Britain. Every black enlistee would be ‘immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free, as if he had never been encumbered with any kind of servitude or slavery. If states were desperate to have more men come into their ranks then there was nothing really stopping slaves from escaping their masters and coming to fight. They all wanted freedom from someone. Slaves wanted freedom from their bonds that were tied to the soil they worked and the Americans wanted freedom from Great Britain. Both groups had their reasons to fight and the only way slaves knew how to become free was to rebel and run to an army. This was a time for large rebellions on all fronts not just from the slaves.
It was a rebellion against the British from the former colonists and a rebellion against the men and women that were taken from their homes to somehow create new ones. “It may have been, as Nash says ‘the greatest slave rebellion in American history,’ but for most of the rebels it ended like the others, in death. Slaves who supported the American side fared better, but not much better. Only with great reluctance did Washington allow some to join his army. Other Virginians had another wartime use for them.
In 1780 the state legislature offered salves as a bounty for enlistment in the war against British tyranny. The revolution did see enactment of measures for gradual emancipation in the northern states, but the number who benefited was small. ” My view on the American Revolution has changed somewhat because of how the African-Americans were treated during and after the period of war. The Americans act as though they had not been fighting alongside each other and because of this withhold distaste for the blacks.
The completely disregard the idea that every man is created equal and has certain unalienable rights. They do not extend these ideas that were written down on the Declaration of Independence to the free black Americans. Men that had fought with and under Washington were not looked as the same because the color of their skin and were not given the same rights. Because of how they were treated I see the Revolution more as a war against Britain to save other whites from tyranny rather than to gain independence for all mankind. ——————————————– 1 ]. Gary B. Nash, The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution (Harvard University: 2006), 1. [ 2 ]. Taymor, . “US History Documents. ” Last modified 2005. Accessed January 27, 2013. http://inside. sfuhs. org/dept/history/US_History_reader/Chapter2/Nashfighting. pdf. [ 3 ]. Taymor, . “US History Documents. ” Last modified 2005. Accessed January 27, 2013. http://inside. sfuhs. org/dept/history/US_History_reader/Chapter2/Nashfighting. pdf. [ 4 ]. Edmund S. Morgan, review of The Unknown American Revolution: The