By 1770 one-fifth of the population of the thirteen colonies was of African ancestry, and almost 95% of the African descendants were slaves. Beginning with the Boston Massacre in 1770 and lasting for the duration of the war, African Americans played a major role in the American struggle for independence. As such a large percentage of the African-American population (both slaves and free blacks) were vital to both the American and British causes.
In addition to civilians, black soldiers and sailors such as Austin Dabney, Joseph Ranger, Caesar Tarrant, and Oliver Cromwell proved themselves to be true patriots through their sacrifices in defense of their American homeland. Other blacks, such as Boston King and Col. Tye, fought just as bravely on the British side, either out of loyalty or in the hope that a surer path toward liberty and racial equality lay with the British Crown.
Indeed, the ideology of freedom that so characterized the American Revolution proved to be a galvanizing message (think “Imagined Community”). American patriots fighting for independence from British rule firmly believed that freedom & self-determination were “unalienable rights” without which they could not survive; as one famous patriot put it, “Give me liberty or give me death!” African-Americans, however, found themselves confronted with the difficult question of what “liberty” and “freedom” meant for them. The fact that black patriots chose to fight for American independence–despite the fact that U.S. denied them freedom–became a rallying cry for those who fought for the abolition of slavery in the years that preceded the next great American struggle, the Civil War.
“From an African-American perspective, the American Revolution was “conservative” and could even be called a “contradiction” given its use of the rhetoric/language of “liberty” and “freedom” while defending slavery. Explore the nature of “freedom” and the contradictions of slavery and freedom in Revolutionary America from an African-American perspective.