African American Patriots of the Revolutionary War

African American Patriots of the Revolutionary War


In 1775, the citizens of the Massachusetts colony were setting course for a war that would decide the fate of a nation. ~Page One

Stories about African American Patriots of the Revolutionary War

Salem Poor



"A Brave and Gallant Soldier"
Salem Poor earned his place in history. during "the Battle of Charleston"-known today as the Battle of Bunker Hill. In this battle, African Americans suffered more than 1,000 casualties. At the Battle of Bunker Hill, Salem Poor performed so well that fourteen officers sent a petition to the Massachusetts legislature declaring that he behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an excellent soldier and added that "a reward was due to so great and distinguished a character."

In the Massachusetts State Archives is a petition to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, stating that in the "late Battle at Charlestown. " a man from Colonel Frye's Regiment "behaved like an experienced officer" and that in this man "centers a brave and gallant soldier." This document, dated December of 1775, just six months after the Battle of Bunker Hill, is signed by fourteen officers who were present at the battle, including Colonel William Prescott. Of the 2,400 to 4,000 colonists who participated in the battle, no other man is singled out in this manner.

This hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill is Salem Poor, of Andover, Massachusetts. Although documents show that Poor, along with his regiment and two others, were sent to Bunker Hill to build a fort and other fortifications on the night of June 16, 1775, we have no details about just what Poor did to earn the praise of these officers. The petition simply states "to set forth the particulars of his conduct would be tedious." Perhaps his heroic deeds were too many to mention.

Few details of this hero's life are available to us. Born a slave in the late 1740s, Poor managed to buy his freedom in 1769 for 27 pounds, which represented a year's salary for the typical working man. He married Nancy, a free African American woman, and they had a son. Salem Poor left his wife and child behind in May 1775 and fought for the patriot cause at Bunker Hill,  Saratoga,  and Monmouth.  We can only speculate about the motives for Poor's sacrifice: was it patriotism, a search for new experience, or the prospect of a new and better life? The Battle of Bunker Hill was a daring and provocative act against established authority; all who participated could well have been hanged for treason. Shut out from many opportunities in colonial society, Salem Poor chose to fight for an independent nation. In the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the bravery of Poor and other African American soldiers "has a peculiar beauty and merit."


Freed slave's story - Revolutionary War hero Salem Poor
Salem Poor was was performing heroically for the patriots at Bunker Hill. For that he was honored in 1975 with his image on a 10-cent postage stamp. Details of Poor's life after the Revolution were unknown until genealogist David Lambert pieced them together over the past decade. "He was one of the first American heroes. I'm glad to have found the final chapter." Poor purchased his freedom in 1769 for 27 pounds, almost $5,600 in today's dollars. He is believed to have killed British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie in Charlestown and fought also at Saratoga and Valley Forge.

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bgill -Contributions private
06 May 2007
11 Oct 2011
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