April 19, 1775- The American experiment to create a more perfect union began with war

April 19, 1775- The American experiment to create a more perfect union began with war
The Battles of Lexington and Concord, fought on April 19, 1775, kicked off the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

British Colonies

On April 19, 1775, British and American soldiers exchanged fire in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord. On the night of April 18, the royal governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, commanded by King George III to suppress the rebellious Americans, had ordered 700 British soldiers, under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and Marine Major John Pitcairn, to seize the colonists’ military stores in Concord, some 20 miles west of Boston. Black Minutemen participate in the fighting.

In July 1775, George Washington announced a ban on the enlistment of free blacks and enslaved people in the colonial army. By the end of the year, he reversed the ban, ordering the Continental Army to accept the service of free blacks.

Video: Lexington and Concord – Shot Heard Around the World

Video: Lexington and Concord


Proclamation issued offering freedom to enslaved Africans who agreed to fight for the British

Source: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

In November of 1775, Virginia’s royal governor, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, issued a proclamation in response to information that the colonists had begun forming armies and attacking British troops.

Dunmore wanted to put a quick end to the fighting and other activities he considered traitorous. Known as “Dunmore’s Proclamation,” the governor’s announcement created fervor among the populace and may have actually helped secure the alignment of many moderate or undecided white Virginians against the British government.

The proclamation declared Virginia in a state of rebellion and placed the colony under martial law. But the most offensive portion of the document was the section that offered freedom to enslaved Africans and bonded servants of patriot sympathizers and forces if they were willing to bear arms and fight for the British.

Dunmore’s strategy was one that he had considered before. In a 1772 report to Lord Dartmouth, the British secretary of state for the colonies, Dunmore had suggested that in case of war with foreign powers, the colonists “trembled at the facility that an enemy would find in procuring Such a body of men.” Dunmore had further expressed a belief that the enslaved Africans would rise up in huge numbers against their masters, “and therefore are ready to join the first that would encourage them to revenge themselves.” [Gerald W. Mullin, Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (New York, 1972), p. 131.] Shortly after the Gunpowder Incident in April 1775, Dunmore threatened the Mayor of Williamsburg, Virginia by stating that he would destroy the town and “proclaim liberty” for enslaved Africans in response to civil unrest.

Dunmore misunderstood the enslaved Africans’ potential motivation. It was not the opportunity to avenge themselves that caused them to join the British; it was the desire to secure freedom. Noted historian Dr. Benjamin Quarles assessed that the enslaved Africans “reserved allegiance for whoever made them the best and most concrete offer.” [Benjamin Quarles, “The Revolutionary War as a Black Declaration of Independence,” in Ira Berlin and Ronald Hoffman, eds, Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution (Charlottesville, Va., 1983) pp. 292-293.]

After learning of the death of Crispus Attucks, a free black killed in the Boston Massacre in March 1770, the colonists revered him for having lost his life for liberty. But the enslaved Africans must have surely asked, whose liberty? Even as free Africans, the full rights of citizenry were denied African Americans. Generally, they were still subject to the same curfews and laws that applied to enslaved Africans. The only difference between free Africans and enslaved Africans in the 18th century was that free Africans had the right to own and protect property.

Click image to enlarge. Click your return arrow to return to this Dilemma X article.
Dunmores Proclamation
Petition of Mann Page on the Behalf of Billy, June 7, 1781

Source: Library of Virginia

For enslaved men and women in Virginia, the words of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal,” offered a promise of freedom that most of them never obtained. Late in the war, the colonies authorized recruitment of African Americans, and in 1783 the General Assembly passed an act to free African American men who had fought as soldiers.

In 1781, late in the war, Billy, an enslaved African man who was enslaved to the estate of John Tayloe (1721–1779), a wealthy white planter, member of the governor’s Council, and iron manufacturer, ran away from Prince William County and was captured, tried and convicted of treason. He pled not guilty and testified that he had been forced to go aboard a British warship against his will and had never taken up arms on behalf of the king. Following the trial, Mann Page, an executor of Tayloe’s estate, and two of the judges argued to Governor Thomas Jefferson that a “slave”, being a noncitizen who did not owe allegiance to the state, could not commit treason. Thomas Jefferson ordered the execution postponed, and Page then petitioned the House of Delegates to grant Billy a pardon on the grounds that a “slave” could not legally commit treason. Although Billy’s life was spared, the legal doctrine that a “slave” could not commit treason was coupled with a denial that enslaved people could be citizens invested with the rights for which the American Revolution was being fought.

Click image to enlarge. Click your return arrow to return to this Dilemma X article.
Billy Petition
James’s Petition to the General Assembly, November 30, 1786

Source: Library of Virginia

In May 1776 when the white men who composed the fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention met in Williamsburg and voted to instruct the colony’s representatives in the Continental Congress to introduce a resolution for independence, they also appointed a committee to draft a declaration of rights.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted in June 1776, like the Declaration of Independence adopted in July of the same year, proclaimed that all men were born free, but neither the Convention nor the Congress meant by their declarations to abolish slavery.

During the first years of the Revolutionary War, Congress refused to allow African Americans to enlist, but later many free African Americans and some enslaved African Americans served in the American army, some as substitutes for the white men who enslaved them and did not wish to serve.

In 1783 the General Assembly freed the African Americans from Virginia who served in the Revolutionary War, although only eight were known to have been granted their freedom under this provision.

Slavery endured for another 82 years in Virginia, but some men who contributed to American independence gained their freedom even though they had not enlisted in the army.

One of the most famous was an enslaved man James, who was enslaved to a New Kent County planter named William Armistead. Late in the Revolutionary War, with his enslaver’s permission, James acted as a spy for the Marquis de Lafayette and was able to slip in and out of the British headquarters at Yorktown and collect crucial information about the British Army’s plans.

After the war ended, James returned to slavery in New Kent County and twice petitioned the General Assembly for his freedom as a reward for his service to the American army. With assistance from Lafayette, the assembly passed a law on November 30, 1786, that freed him as of January 1787, and with his freedom James took the name James Lafayette.

Click image to enlarge. Click your return arrow to return to this Dilemma X article.
James's Petition

Video: Dunmore’s Proclamation- Colonial Williamsburg

Video: Choices facing African Americans during the Revolutionary War


North Carolina

Aroused perhaps by British promises of freedom, enslaved Africans in Pitt County and Beaufort County tried to break the chains of bondage. In July 1775 the Pitt County Committee of Safety discovered a plot for an insurrection by enslaved Africans, just before it was to start.

A posse of 100 men captured the suspected leaders and jailed more than forty blacks. The same month other blacks were captured along the Pitt-Craven county line. Their plan, according to the confessions (probably obtained through torture), was to “destroy the family where they lived” and then to march “from House to House (Burning as they went) until they arrived in the Back Country.” There they were to be welcomed by the British who would reward them by settling the former enslaved “in a free government of their own.”

Along the North Carolina coast in the spring of 1776, enslaved Africans were going over to the British. William Hooper, another of North Carolina’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, sadly noted, “The [N]egroes are deserting from the Sea Coast… Three of mine were intercepted on their way and are now in Goal [jail].” The muster rolls (lists of people in military units or on ships) of British ships stationed off Cape Fear recorded the names of blacks who “deserted from the Rebels” or “fled for Protection.” The HMS Scorpion reported that 36 blacks, including at least 11 women, came aboard on March 3, 1776.

Thomas Peters, an enslaved African, and also a native of the lower Cape Fear River region, joined the British army in 1776. He became a sergeant with the Black Pioneers, a unit of support troops for the British army. When the British evacuated New York in 1783, Peters went with them to Nova Scotia, Canada. There he became the leader of a large group of black loyalists. This group argued that the British had not lived up to their promises of land grants and fair treatment in exchange for their loyalty and service. Finally, Peters convinced the British to resettle 1,200 black loyalists in Sierra Leone, Africa, a British colony.

During Cornwallis’s advance through the Carolinas, he let blacks search for food and goods along the way. Their raids sent an alarm through the farms and homesteads of the countryside. Writing from eastern North Carolina in the spring of 1781, Jean Blair reported at least two thousand black in different parties had been “sent out by L[ord] Cornwallis to plunder and get provisions. It is said they have no Arms but what they find in the houses they plunder.”

Farther west in Rowan County, Cornwallis’s movements encouraged another slave uprising. Blacks there realized that “War was Coming on,” and they began to collect weapons. Their plan was to rise up against the “white people.” Enslaved Africans would have to decide “which side” they were for — “the Americans or the British.” Though the plot was discovered in time, it showed the feelings in the enslaved African community.

Source: Jeffrey J. Crow “‘Liberty to slaves’: The black response” and North Carolina Museum of History

Video: The Revolutionary War: A Jolt to Slavery, But Not Enough
Part 1 of 4

Video: The Revolutionary War: A Jolt to Slavery, But Not Enough
Part 2 of 4

Video: The Revolutionary War: A Jolt to Slavery, But Not Enough
Part 3 of 4

Video: The Revolutionary War: A Jolt to Slavery, But Not Enough
Part 4 of 4

American Colonies

Population figures do not include the French and Spanish colonies in what is now the United States. The population estimates also does not include the Native American population that existed in every region of what is now the United States.

Population American Colonies


United States of America

The first census began more than a year after the inauguration of President Washington and shortly before the second session of the first Congress ended. The United States of America’s Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 census to the marshals of the U.S. judicial districts under an act which, with minor modifications and extensions, governed census taking through 1840. The law required that every household be visited, that completed census schedules be posted in “two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned…” and that “the aggregate amount of each description of persons” for every district be transmitted to the president.

The six inquiries in 1790 called for the name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions:

Free White males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential)
Free White males under 16 years
Free White females
All other free persons

Source: US Census Bureau
Census 1790

Click image to enlarge. Click your return arrow to return to this Dilemma X article.
Census Slave Population

Census Slave Population

Census Slave Population

Census Slave Population

One may use the current 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator to determine a minimum economic value in today’s dollars. Keep in mind the chart above does not include all states. Slavery expanded beyond the early states as did the size of the enslaved population. 

Census Slave Population
Video: Should African Americans be given reparations for slavery?
From  the CNN-YouTube 2008 Presidential Democratic Party Debate
July 23, 2007 Charleston, South Carolina at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina

Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson


Reparations: Martin Luther King Jr. , Barack Obama and America’s apology

About Dilemma X

Dilemma X, LLC provides research dedicated to the progression of economic development. Our services aid clients in enhancing overall production statistics. Please visit http://www.dilemma-x.com for more information

View all posts by Dilemma X


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: