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PATRIOTS OF COLOR ~ REVOLUTIONARY WAR

African Americans - free, slave, and ex-slave - fought side by side with white colonists seeking independence from British domination. GEORGE WASHINGTON, as Commander of the Continental Army, forbade the enlistment of Blacks - free, slave, or ex-slave - during the early stages of the war. He later learned that the Royal Governor of Virginia, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, was enlisting slaves and indentured servants into the British army with the promise of "freedom to all slaves who would join the King's army." Dunmore's tactic of lifting the ban on Blacks enlisting in the British army led George Washington to change his mind, and, therefore, Blacks later joined the CONTINENTAL ARMED FORCES.

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This portrait (left) of an unidentified Revolutionary War sailor was painted in oil by an unknown artist, circa 1780.
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One of the most famous black seamen was James Forten, who enlisted on the privateer Royal Louis as a powder boy, was captured along with his ship's crew, and spent time on a British prison barge before being released in a prisoner exchange. Forten went on to become a successful businessman and a leader of Philadelphia's African American community.
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SALEM POORE

POORE, SALEM

(1747-1780)

African-American Soldier:

Born in Andover. Massachusetts, Poor, a married freeman, joined the militia at the age of 28. He fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was the subject of a petition written by fourteen officers and submitted to the Massachusetts legislature in December 1775. The petition recommended that Poor be given a monetary reward for having "behaved like an experienced officer as well as an excellent soldier." The state took no action on his behalf, however, and Poor continued in his service to his country, having fought at Charlestown as well as Bunker Hill, and later fighting at Valley Forge and White Plains as part of the Continental Army. The rest of Poor's life is shrouded in obscurity.

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CHIEF PONTIAC

Pontiac

(1720-1769)

Ottawa war leader:

Pontiac is credited with having led Native Americans against the British in the French and Indian Wars. After the defeat of the French, Native Americans were dismayed by the scorn of the British. Tradition asserts that Pontiac was the man who organized Native American tribes to resist British expansion. The skillful use of guerilla warfare enabled the Native Americans to seize a number of frontier posts, but the garrison at Detroit resisted their attacks. Pontiac and other Native American leaders were partly inspired by Neolin, a Delaware prophet who declared that the "dogs clothed in red" needed to be driven away. The incidents called "Pontiac's Rebellion" were only part of a 40-year period of resistance to the British imposition on tribal autonomy. Pontiac eventually settled for peace. He was killed in 1769 by a Native American of the Peoria tribe.

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Attucks, Crispus: African-American martyr:

Attucks, Crispus:

African-American martyr:

Crispus Attucks was the first American martyr in an event prior to the Revolutionary War itself. The son of a native African and a Native American of the Natick tribe, Attucks ran away from his slave owner and became a sailor and whaler. He learned to read and write and to understand the basic principles of different types of government. Attucks attended meetings with other patriots to discuss taxes levied by Britain, and wrote a letter of protest to Governor Thomas Hutchinson, the Tory governor of Massachusetts. On March 5, 1770, at Dock Square in Boston, Attucks was with a group of men who were defied the British Red Coats. He was the first man to die in the ensuing skirmish, later called the Boston Massacre. As the first to die for the American cause, he was buried with honor, and a monument on the Boston Common was erected to immortalize his sacrifice.

 

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PRINCE HALL

Prince Hall, one of Boston's most prominent citizens during the revolutionary period, was the founder of the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons of Boston, the world's first lodge of black Freemasonry and the first society in American history devoted to social, political, and economic improvement.

Not much is known of Hall's life before the Revolution. He was born in 1735 and was the slave of William Hall of Boston. His son, Primus, was born in 1756 to Delia, a servant in another household. In 1762, at the age of 27, Hall joined the Congregational Church, and soon after, married an enslaved woman named Sarah Ritchie. Eight years later, after Sarah's death, he married Flora Gibbs of Gloucester.

A month after the Boston Massacre, William Hall freed Prince; his certificate of manumission read that he was "no longer Reckoned a slave, but [had] always accounted as a free man." Hall made his living as a huckster (peddler), caterer and leather dresser, and was listed as a voter and a taxpayer. He owned a small house and leather workshop in Boston.

It is believed that he was one of the six black men of Massachusetts named Prince Hall listed in military records of the Revolution, and he may well have fought at Bunker Hill. A bill he sent to a Colonel Crafts indicates that he crafted five leather drumheads for the Boston Regiment of Artillery in April, 1777.

In 1775, Hall and fourteen other free blacks joined a British army lodge of Masons who were stationed in Boston. After the British departed, they formed their own lodge, African Lodge No. 1, though it would be twelve years before they received a permanent charter. Hall became the lodge's first Grand Master.

Hall was active in the affairs of Boston's black community, using his position as "Worshipful Master" of the black Masons to speak out against slavery and the denial of black rights. For years, he protested the lack of schools for black children and finally established one in his own home.

In his last published speech, his charge to the African Lodge in June 1797, Hall spoke of mob violence against blacks: "Patience, I say; for were we not possessed of a great measure of it, we could not bear up under the daily insults we meet with in the streets of Boston, much more on public days of recreation. How, at such times, are we shamefully abused, and that to such a degree, that we may truly be said to carry our lives in our hands, and the arrows of death are flying about our heads....tis not for want of courage in you, for they know that they dare not face you man for man, but in a mob, which we despise..."

Prince Hall died in 1807 at the age of 72. A year later, his lodge honored him by changing its name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

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AGRIPPA HULL

Agrippa Hull was born free in 1759, and at the age of six was brought to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the Colonial army in 1777, and served for the duration of the war as an orderly to General John Patterson and to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish patriot. Kosciuszko once was surprised to discover Hull, dressed in the commander's uniform, giving a party for his friends!

After the war, Hull returned to Stockbridge, where he was a neighbor of Elizabeth Freeman, the first enslaved African American to be freed under the new state constitution. Judge Theodore Sedgewick, who as a young lawyer had represented Freeman in her suit, helped Hull to gain the freedom of Jane Darby, an enslaved woman who sought refuge in Stockbridge, where she met and married Hull. After Jane's death, Hull remarried.

In 1828, Charles Sedgwick wrote to the Acting Secretary of State on Hull's behalf, requesting that his soldier's pension be mailed directly to his home. Sedgewick asked for the return of the enclosed discharge paper, which had by signed by George Washington at West Point, explaining that Hull had been reluctant to part with it: "...he had rather forego the pension than lose the discharge."

Hull was known as a man of great dignity, pride, character and biting wit who became the village seer. Once, after Hull had accompanied his white employer to hear a "distinguished mulatto preacher," the man asked Hull, "Well, how do you like nigger preaching?" to which Hull replied, "Sir, he was half black and half white. I like my half, how did you like yours?"
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LEMUEL HAYNES

Lemuel Haynes was probably the first African American ordained by a mainstream Protestant Church in the United States.

Haynes, the abandoned child of an African father and "a white woman of respectable ancestry," was born in 1753 at West Hartford, Connecticut. Five months later, he was bound to service until the age of 21 to David Rose of Middle Granville, Massachusetts.

With only a rudimentary formal education, Haynes developed a passion for books, especially the Bible and books on theology. As an adolescent, he frequently conducted services at the town parish, sometimes reading sermons of his own.

When his indenture ended in 1774, Haynes enlisted as a "Minuteman" in the local militia. While serving in the militia, he wrote a lengthy ballad-sermon about the April, 1775 Battle of Lexington. In the title of the poem, he refers to himself as "Lemuel a young Mollato who obtained what little knowledge he possesses, by his own Application to Letters." Although the poem emphasized the conflict between slavery and freedom, it did not directly address black slavery.

After the war, Haynes turned down the opportunity to study at Dartmouth College, instead choosing to study Latin and Greek with clergymen in Connecticut. In 1780 he was licensed to preach. He accepted a position with a white congregation in Middle Granville and later married a young white schoolteacher, Elizabeth Babbitt. In 1785, Haynes was officially ordained as a Congregational minister.

Haynes held three pastorships after his ordination. The first was with an all-white congregation in Torrington, Connecticut, where he left after two years due to the active prejudice of several members.

His second call to the pulpit, from a mostly white church in Rutland, Vermont that had a few "poor Africans," lasted for 30 years. During that time, Haynes developed an international reputation as a preacher and writer. In 1804, he received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Middlebury College, the first ever bestowed upon an African American. In 1801, he published a tract called "The Nature and Importance of True Republicanism..." which contained his only public statement on the subject of race or slavery.

Haynes was a lifelong admirer of George Washington and an ardent Federalist. In 1818, conflicts with his congregation, ostensibly over politics and style, led to a parting; there was some speculation, however, that the church's displeasure with Haynes stemmed from racism. Haynes himself was known to say that "he lived with the people of Rutland thirty years, and they were so sagacious that at the end of that time they found out that he was a nigger, and so turned him away."

His last appointment was in Manchester, Vermont, where he counseled two men convicted of murder; they narrowly escaped hanging when the alleged "victim" reappeared. Haynes's writings on the seven-year ordeal became a bestseller for a decade.

For the last eleven years of his life, Haynes ministered to a congregation in upstate New York. He died in 1833, at the age of 80.

Nearly 150 years after his death, a manuscript written by Haynes around 1776 was discovered, in which he boldly stated "That an African... has an undeniable right to his Liberty." The treatise went on to condemn slavery as sin, and pointed out the irony of slaveowners fighting for their own liberty while denying it to others.
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PRINCE EASTERBROOKS

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Prince Easterbrooks

(also referred to as Estabrook)

served in nearly every major campaign of the war. An undated broadside identifying him as " a Negro Man" lists Easterbrooks among the wounded from Lexington "in the late Engagement with His Majesty's Troops at Concord, &c." Easterbrooks had enlisted in the company of Captain John Parker, the first to engage the British at Lexington.

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UNKNOWN SOLDIER

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This portrait of an unidentified Revolutionary War sailor was painted in oil by an unknown artist, circa 1780. Prior to the war, many blacks were already experienced seamen, having served in the British navy and in the colonies' state navies, as well as on merchant vessels in the North and the South. This sailor's dress uniform suggests that he served in the navy, rather than with a privateer
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Black Revolutionary Seamen

Unlike the Continental Army, the Navy recruited both free and enslaved blacks from the very start of the Revolutionary War -- partly out of desperation for seamen of any color, and partly because many blacks were already experienced sailors, having served in British and state navies, as well as on merchant vessels in the North and the South.

To both the enslaved and free, privately owned vessels were more attractive than the Continental or state navies. For runaway slaves, there was less chance of being detected by slavecatchers, and for all crew members, there were greater financial rewards. Philadelphia's free blacks, for instance, were more inclined to serve on privateers than in Pennsylvania navy.

One of the most famous black seamen was James Forten, who enlisted on the privateer Royal Louis as a powder boy, was captured along with his ship's crew, and spent time on a British prison barge before being released in a prisoner exchange. Forten went on to become a successful businessman and a leader of Philadelphia's African American community.

Although Black seamen performed a range of duties, usually the most menial ones, they were particularly valued as pilots. Others served as shipyard carpenters and laborers. Both Maryland's and Virginia's navies made extensive use of blacks, even purchasing slaves specifically for wartime naval service. Virginia's state commissioner noted that it was cheaper to hire blacks than whites, and that whites could get exemption from military service by substituting a slave.

In his memoirs, U.S. Navy Commodore James Barron, who served as a captain in the Virginia navy during the war, recalled several black men among the "courageous patriots who... in justice to their merits should not be forgotten." He mentions four slaves: Harry, Cupid, Aberdeen (who subsequently befriended Patrick Henry and was freed by the Virginia General Assembly) and the "noble African" pilot known as "Captain" Mark Starlins.

In 1775, Jeremiah Thomas, a pilot, fisherman, "and Free Negroe of considerable property," was hanged and burned in Charleston for allegedly plotting an insurrection, timed to coincide with the arrival of the new British governor. Henry Laurens, a slave trader and the president of South Carolina's patriotic First Provincial Congress, reported that Thomas was "puffed up by prosperity, ruined by Luxury and debauchery and grown to an amazing pitch of vanity and ambition."

Two slaves, one of them Thomas's brother-in-law, testified that Thomas had urged other blacks to assist the British Royal Navy in capturing Charleston harbor, assuring them that "the War was come to help the poor Negroes."

Thomas was not the only African American seaman to ally himself with the British. Many royal naval vessels were piloted by blacks -- some of them runaways, other enslaved to loyalist masters, and still others pressed into service. Possibly a quarter of the slaves who escaped to the British made their way onto ships, some signing onto the ships' crews or joining marauding expeditions of bandits commonly referred to as "Banditti."
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COLONEL TYE

By the winter of 1777-78, the Continental Army had dwindled to 18,000 from disease and desertion. This, together with the active recruitment of enslaved blacks by the British, finally convinced Washington to approve plans for Rhode Island to raise a regiment of free blacks and slaves.

Colonel Tye was perhaps the best-known of the Loyalist black soldiers. An escaped bondman born in Monmouth County, New Jersey, he wreaked havoc for several years with his guerrilla Black Brigade in New York and New Jersey. At one time he commanded 800 men. For most of 1779 and 1780, Tye and his men terrorized his home county -- stealing cattle, freeing slaves, and capturing Patriots at will. On September 1, 1780, during the capture of a Patriot captain, Tye was shot through the wrist, and he later died from a fatal infection.

Colonel Tye, the most feared and respected guerrilla commander of the Revolution, was one of the many enslaved Africans who escaped and fought for the British.

Known in his youth as Titus, he was one of four young men owned by John Corlies of Shrewsbury, in the eastern part of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Shrewsbury Quakers, under increasing pressure from their Philadelphia-influenced counterparts to the west, finally began to end slavery among themselves in the 1760s. Corlies did not follow the local practice of educating his slaves or of freeing them on their 21st birthdays, and by 1775, he was one of the few remaining Quaker slaveholders in Monmouth County.

In November 1775, the day after Dunmore's Proclamation was issued, 22-year old Titus fled from his cruel, quick-tempered master, joining the flood of Monmouth County blacks who sought refuge with the British as soldiers, sailors and workers. Titus changed his name, gaining notoriety three years later as Captain Tye, the pride of Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment.

While not formally commissioning black officers, the British army often bestowed titles out of respect, and Tye quickly earned their respect. In his first known military incursion, the June, 1778 Battle of Monmouth (in which not a single black from the county fought for the patriots), Tye captured a captain in the Monmouth militia.

In July, 1779, Tye's band launched a raid on Shrewsbury, and carried away clothing, furniture, horses, cattle, and two of the town's inhabitants. With his "motley crew" of blacks and white refugees known as "cow-boys," Tye continued to attack and plunder patriot homes, using his knowledge of Monmouth County's swamps, rivers and inlets to strike suddenly and disappear quickly. These raids, often aimed at former masters and their friends, were a combination of banditry, reprisal, and commission; Tye and his men were well-paid by the British, sometimes earning five gold guineas.

During the harsh winter of 1779, Tye was among an elite group of twenty-four black Loyalists, known as the Black Brigade, who joined with the Queen's Rangers, a British guerrilla unit, to protect New York City and to conduct raids for food and fuel.

By 1780, Colonel Tye had become an important military force. Within one week in June, he led three actions in Monmouth County. On June 9, Tye and his men murdered Joseph Murray, hated by the Loyalists for his summary execution of captured Tories under a local vigilante law. On June 12, while the British attacked Washington's dwindling troops, Tye and his band launched a daring attack on the home of Barnes Smock, capturing the militia leader and twelve of his men, destroying their cannon, depriving Washington of needed reinforcements, and striking fear into the hearts of local patriots.

In response, Governor Livingston, who had tried two years before to abolish slavery in New Jersey, invoked martial law -- a measure which proved totally ineffective -- even as large numbers of blacks, heartened by news of Tye's feats, fled to British-held New York.

In a series of raids throughout the summer, Tye continued to debilitate and demoralize the patriot forces. In a single day, he and his band captured eight militiamen (including the second in command), plundered their homes, and took them to imprisonment in New York, virtually undetected and without suffering a single casualty.

In September, 1780 Tye led a surprise attack on the home of Captain Josiah Huddy, whom Loyalists had tried to capture for years. Amazingly, Huddy and his friend Lucretia Emmons managed to hold off their attackers for two hours, until the Loyalists flushed them out by setting the house afire. During the battle, Tye was shot in the wrist, and days later, what was thought to be minor wound turned fatal when lockjaw set in.

After Tye's death, Colonel Stephen Blucke of the Black Pioneers replaced him as leader of the raiders, continuing their attacks well after the British defeat at Yorktown. Tye's reputation lived on, among his comrades as well as the Patriots, who argued that the war would have been won much sooner had Tye been enlisted on their side.

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TITUS

Titus was one of four young black men owned by John Corlies of Shrewsbury, in the eastern part of Monmouth County, New Jersey. In November 1775, the day after Dunmore's Proclamation was issued, 22-year old Titus fled from his cruel, quick-tempered master, joining the flood of blacks who sought refuge with the British as soldiers, sailors and workers.

In this ad for Titus's capture and return, dated November 22, 1775, Corlies correctly anticipated that Titus "will probably change his name." Three years later the former slave gained notoriety as Captain Tye, the pride of Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, who led a guerrilla campaign against Monmouth County slaveholders
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BOSTON KING

Boston King was one of the many enslaved African Americans -- perhaps as many as 100,000 -- who risked punishment and even death in order to reach the British lines and a chance at freedom.

King was born around 1760 near Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina. His father, who had been kidnapped from Africa as child, was a driver on the plantation and knew how to read and write. His mother was a nurse and seamstress.

When he was sixteen, King was apprenticed to a carpenter, who treated him cruelly and once punished him so harshly that he was unable to work for three weeks. As the war moved closer to Charles Town, his master moved further inland. One day, King borrowed the master's horse to visit his parents, but another servant took the horse and stayed several days longer than permitted. King knew that he would be punished severely, and so he decided to join the British in Charles Town.

Soon after his arrival, a smallpox epidemic swept the region. The fugitive slaves, consigned to crowded and unsanitary living conditions, were especially vulnerable. King was stricken with smallpox; he and the other sick African Americans were carried away from the camp and abandoned by the British. Unlike most, King recovered.

Twice again King had to escape captivity, once from a British deserter, and later when the pilot boat on which he served was captured by an American whaleboat. King made his way up to New York, where he and thousands of other Loyalist refugees sought safety behind British lines at the close of the war, and where he met and married Violet, who had been a slave in North Carolina.

New York was the last American port to be evacuated by the British. While Washington negotiated with the British-commander-in-chief over the fate of the Loyalist fugative slave refugees, the rumor that they would be returned to their former masters filled them with "inexpressible anguish and terror." Boston King recalled that "For days, we lost our appetite for food and sleep departed from our eyes."

Within a year, the British had compiled a register of 3,000 former slaves who had joined them prior to the signing of the 1782 provisional treaty; all others were to be returned. Boston and Violet King were among those listed in the "Book of Negroes;" they were issued certificates of freedom, which "dispelled all our fears, and filled us with joy and gratitude." Most important, it allowed them to board the military transport ships bound for the free black settlement in Nova Scotia where most of the black Loyalists were to be relocated.

Violet and Boston, along with other passengers aboard the L'Abondance, formed a black community in Burch Town (Birchtown, named for the British commander of New York City), six miles outside of Shelburne, Nova Scotia.

The provisions supplied by the British were inadequate, housing was nonexistent, and the land was barren and rocky. When delivery of supplies ended in 1786, free blacks were reduced to starvation, forcing them to sell their possessions or to indenture themselves to whites. King worked as a carpenter, making and selling chests and taking whatever jobs he could find to support himself and Violet through the ensuing famine.

After his conversion to Methodism in 1786, Boston began to preach in Birchtown and Shelburne, eventually moving to Preston at the request of Bishop William Black. There he met Lieutenant John Clarkson, the Halifax agent for the Sierra Leone Company. Boston and Violet were among the nearly twelve hundred blacks who sailed for Sierra Leone, West Africa, in January, 1792. After a difficult voyage in which sixty settlers died en route, rainy weather, malaria, and plagues of insects killed many of the new arrivals, including Violet.

At first Boston was employed by the company to preach to the native Africans in Sierra Leone, despite the fact that he could not understand their language. Soon he opened a school, later traveling to England to be schooled himself as a teacher.

In England, Boston preached to a white congregation, writing, "I found a more cordial love to the White People than I had ever experienced before. In the former part of my life I had suffered greatly from the cruelty and injustice of the Whites, which induced me to look upon them, in general, as our enmies: And even after the Lord had manifested his forgiving mercy to me, I still felt at times an uneasy distrust and shyness toward them; but on that day the Lord removed all my prejudices."

After two years of study at the Kingswood School, Boston returned to Sierra Leone and his work as a schoolmaster, determined to teach his African-born students the English language and "some knowledge of the way of salvation thro' faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." In 1798, he published his memoirs, one of the few first-hand accounts of the lives of Black Loyalist emigrés.
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GEORGE LIELE

George Liele was the first black Baptist in Georgia, and the first black Baptist churches in American resulted from his evangelism.

Liele was born in Virginia in 1752, but lived much of his life as a slave in Georgia. He was converted and baptized by Matthew Moore, an ordained Baptist minister. When Liele felt the call to preach, he was encouraged by his master, Henry Sharp, a Baptist deacon and a Loyalist. Liele was licensed as a probationer around 1773, and for two years he preached in the slave quarters of plantations surrounding Savannah, including the congregation formed at Silver Bluff, South Carolina.

Sharp freed Liele sometime before the Revolutionary War began. After Sharp's death in battle in 1778, Liele made his way to British-occupied Savannah, where Sharp's heirs would have reenslaved him but for the intervention of a British officer. Over the next few years, he built a congregation of black Baptists, slave and free, including the Silver Bluff group led by David George. One of his converts was Andrew Bryan, who continued the work in Savannah after Liele and his family sailed with the British to Jamaica in 1784.

Settling in Kingston, Liele formed a church on his own land. Liele's church flourished, despite persecution from whites. In exchange for a number of concessions, including inspection by authorities of every prayer and sermon, his ministry was tolerated, and he was allowed to preach to the poor and enslaved on plantations and in settlements. In 1791 he wrote, "I have baptized 400 in Jamaica....We have nigh three hundred and fifty members; a few white people among them."

One of Liele's priorities was the organization and promotion of a free school for black children, taught by a black deacon. A few adult members of his congregation also learned to read, and he wrote that "all are desirous to learn."

Over the years, Liele kept in touch with Bryan, George and other Baptist pioneers that he had converted. He wrote with a hint of pride of their far-flung ministries, noting that "a great work is going on..."

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Andrew Bryan

Andrew Bryan, the founder of the First African Baptist Church, was born enslaved in 1737, on a plantation outside of Charleston, South Carolina. He served as coachman and body servant to Jonathan Bryan, who along with his brother Hugh and several other planters, was arrested for preaching to slaves. Jonathan Bryan's plantation became the center of efforts by dissenting group of planters to evangelize their slaves.

In 1782, Andrew was converted by the preaching of George Liele, the first black Baptist in Georgia, who was licensed to preach to slaves along the Savannah River. Liele baptized Andrew and his wife Hannah. When Liele and hundreds of other blacks left with the British later that year, Andrew continued to preach to small groups outside of Savannah. With his master's encouragement, he built a shack for his small flock, which included a few whites. Although he brought hundreds into his church, 350 others could not be baptized because of their masters' opposition.

Fearing slave uprisings and desertions to the British, Georgian masters forbade their slaves to listen to Andrew's sermons. Even slaves who had passes were stopped and whipped, and members of the church, both slave and free, were harassed, whipped, and jailed. Jonathan Bryan and several other sympathetic planters protested Andrew's imprisonment. Upon his release he continued to preach in a barn on the Bryan plantation, between sunrise and sunset.

With the support of several prominent white men of Savannah who cited the positive effect of religion on slave discipline, Andrew was ordained and his church certified in 1788. When his own master died, Andrew Bryan purchased his freedom. In 1794, Bryan raised enough money to erect a church in Savannah, calling it the Bryan Street African Baptist Church -- the first black Baptist church in Georgia (and probably the United States), as well as the first Baptist church, black or white, in Savannah. By 1800, the church had grown to about 700; they reorganized as the First Baptist Church of Savannah, and 250 members were dismissed in order to establish a branch outside of Savannah.

Bryan died in 1812, having obtained a house of his own, property in Savannah and in the country, and the freedom of his wife -- though his "only daughter and child, who is married to a free man" remained in slavery along with her seven children, since according to law children inherited the condition of their enslaved mothers.

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David George

David George was born into slavery in Virginia in 1742, but ran away to South Carolina where he hid for several years -- first as a servant to Creek chief Blue Salt, then to Natchez chief King Jack, who sold him to a plantation in Silver Bluff, South Carolina, near the Georgia border.

Between 1773 and 1775, George, his wife, and six other slaves owned by George Galphin were converted to Christianity and baptized by Joshua Palmer, a white Baptist itinerant minister. Following Dunmore's proclamation, white ministers were prohibited from preaching to slaves "lest they should furnish...too much knowledge." Upon Palmer's recommendation, George took on responsibility for the Silver Bluff group.

With help from Galphin's children, George learned to read and write by using the Bible. The Silver Bluff church grew under George's leadership, gradually increasing in number from eight to more than 30. George Liele, the first black Baptist in Georgia, occasionally preached to congregation.

In 1778, when their Patriot master abandoned the plantation as the British advanced, the whole Silver Bluff group fled to British-occupied Savannah. There, George "kept a butcher's stall" while his wife took in laundry for the British troops. George continued to preach in Savannah, and was once again baptized, this time by Liele.

With borrowed money, George and his wife made their way to Charleston. When the British evacuated over 5,000 blacks from the city in 1782, most of them to slavery in the West Indies, they were among the handful who found their way to Nova Scotia.

George settled in Shelburne, where he quickly became one of the leading black preachers, founding what was the first Baptist Church in Shelburne and the second in Nova Scotia. His powerful preaching attracted both black and whites to his camp meetings and mass baptisms.

Since the arrival of the British refugees, tension had been building over competition between blacks and whites for scarce jobs and resources. In 1784, riots erupted when George attempted to baptize two whites. His July 26 diary entry records, "Great riot today. The disbanded soldiers have risen against the free Negroes to drive them out of the town." A few days later, "Riot continues. The soldiers force the free Negroes to quit the town -- pulled down 20 of their houses."

The soldiers entered George's church, beat him, and drove him into the swamps. He wrote; "forty or fifty disbanded soldiers...turned oer my dwelling house...I continued preaching til they came one night, and stood before the pulpit and swore how they would treat me if I preached again."

George and his family fled to Birchtown, where he was required to obtain a preaching license that restricted his ministry to blacks. He also faced opposition from black Anglicans, forcing his return to Shelburne, where he gained a widespread following.

George's ministry sparked many independent congregations in Nova Scotia (over the next thirty years making Baptists the majority among blacks); he himself established seven Baptist churches and trained a number of other black preachers. His work, along with that of other black religious leaders, created the first movement of black churches and benevolent organizations in North America.

Eventually, after a decade of persecution in Canada, George left to become a founding father of Sierra Leone and of the first Baptist Church in West Africa.
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James Forten, African-American Privateer

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James Forten (1766-1843) was a 15 year-old powder boy on the privateer Royal Louis, commanded by Stephen Decatur, Sr. He was born free in Philadelphia and had already served as a drummer in the Continental Army.

Young James Forten expected to be sold into slavery in the West Indies, as was British custom with their black prisoners of war. However, on board the Amphylon he was befriended by the captain's son, a boy his age, who persuaded his father to send Forten to England. Forten refused to be a traitor to his country, and the captain sent him to the prison-ship Jersey [see below], along with a letter asking he be treated kindly and exchanged if possible.

Forten spent 7 months on the Jersey sharing moldy bread and foul water with a thousand other privateers. Once, he had a chance to escape by hiding in the baggage of an officer being exchanged for a British prisoner, but he allowed a younger white boy to take the space. Forten helped carry the chest off the Jersey. He was set free in an exchange of prisoners and walked home from New York to Philadelphia, where he became a successful businessman and a founder of the Abolitionist movement.

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