Black participation in the Revolution, however, was not limited to supporting the American cause, and either voluntarily or under duress thousands also fought for the British.
Enslaved blacks made their own assessment of the conflict and supported the side that offered the best opportunity to escape bondage.
The legislature agreed to set free slaves who volunteered for the duration of the war, and compensated their owners for their value.
This regiment performed bravely throughout the war and was present at Yorktown where an observer noted it was “the most neatly dressed, the best under arms, and the most precise in its maneuvers.” Although the Southern states were reluctant to recruit enslaved African Americans for the army, they had no objections to using free and enslaved blacks as pilots and able-bodied seaman.
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Most British officials were reluctant to arm blacks, but as early as 1775, Virginia’s royal governor, Lord Dunmore, established an all-black “Ethiopian Regiment” composed of runaway slaves.
By promising them freedom, Dunmore enticed over 800 slaves to escape from “rebel” masters.
At the 1876 Centennial Celebration of the Revolution in Philadelphia, not a single speaker acknowledged the contributions of African Americans in establishing the nation.
Yet by 1783, thousands of black Americans had become involved in the war.