Saturday, August 14, 2004
History shouldn't ignore roles of blacks in Revolutionary
By A.J. Williams-Myers
In July, America celebrated 228 years of independence. Less than
a decade ago the Hudson Valley was declared an American Heritage
Trail. The two events are intertwined, given the growing tourist
industry in the valley. As the Revolutionary War is recalled to
visitors, they should know the two opposing forces confronted
each other with integrated fighting forces.
Black and white, on both sides of the battle line, confronted
one another. Blood flowed from black and white veins, and Native-American.
Yet this is not told in history books; the picture is of two opposing,
white antagonists -- American and British.
To tell the story correctly, the evidence must be made available.
If data collection and interpretation is done correctly, the millions
of visitors will know this valley was a crucible from which arose
an American people.
I have done preliminary research pointing to the success of data
collection and interpretation. Historical sites should follow
this direction to reconstruct a more inclusive picture of the
Hudson Valley's Revolutionary history.
An estimated 5,000 African Americans served in the war effort,
with a significant number of those in the Hudson Valley in the
American effort to hold it.
More fought for Colonists
Since the Continental forces were more integrated then than American
forces during the first and second world wars, the numbers were
likely even larger; thus the need for the research.
If African American combatants were not identified as ''black,''
''Negro'' or ''mulatto,'' they simply appeared in name only on
Present among members of a New York regiment with Benedict Arnold
in his disastrous invasion of Canada during the Revolution were
Ulster County combatants Jack Roosa and Jack Gaul, who, if not
identified by a descriptive adjective, would have been assumed
to be white.
Similar examination of British military records could reveal
the extensive presence of not only African-American enlistees
who accepted Virginia Gov. Dunmore's and Westchester County Gen.
Clinton's overtures to join up with the British, but also Afro-Britons.
Their residence in London, Liverpool and others dated back several
British get help
Preliminary research has pinpointed African Americans attached
to British forces like Rodger's Rangers, posted at King's Bridge
on the Harlem River, and the two African-American ''colonels,''
Cuff and Tye. These two operated on the British side within the
''Neutral Zone,'' from the Long Island Sound across the Hudson
into New Jersey.
Women, too, joined the British. A 1777 letter to Pierre van Cortlandt
in Poughkeepsie reported ''a mulatto wench has lately passed through
this place from New York; she brought intelligence to the inhabitants
from their friends in New York, and in all probability she (has)
gone to Burgoyne's army.''
Among the Hessian troops bolstering British forces were German-born
Afro-Hessians in the Drummer Corps. At the Battle of Saratoga
in 1777, after the surrender of Burgoyne, an Afro-Hessian Drummer
Corps was evacuated with Baron Von Riedesel and his Brunswick
contingent back to Germany.
Afro-Hessian participation is verified by the following runaway
ad in a New York colonial newspaper, The Royal Gazette, March
29, 1780. It points to a trove of documentation awaiting researchers,
or a historical site willing to expand its interpretation of Revolutionary
Hudson Valley. The valley could set a precedent for other Revolutionary
The ad reads: ''DESERTED on 25th inst. From the General Hospital
where he has been sick with the small pox, a Negroe, named Robert
Kupperth, about 19 years of age, five feet three inches high.
He was a Drummer of the Hessian Regiment Landgrave. ... Every
one is warned ... (not) to harbour the said Negro Drummer, and
whoever will secure, give intelligence, or deliver him to the
said regiment Landgrave, now garrisoned in this city, will be
A.J. Williams-Myers is a black studies professor at the State
University of New York at New Paltz.