Part 1: 1450-1750
<---Part 2: 1750-1805
Part 3: 1791-1831
Part 4: 1831-1865

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People & Events
Free black Patriots
1775 - 1783

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A number of free black men from the North fought on the American side of the Revolutionary war. Several of them were sons of former slaves who had bought themselves (and in some cases, their children) out of slavery.

Cuff Smith was born into slavery in Rhode Island. In 1769, Cuff's freedom was purchased by his father, Venture Smith, for $200. The family settled in Haddam Neck, Connecticut. When he was in his early 20s, Cuff enlisted in the Continental army, where he served from January, 1781 to January, 1784. After the war, Cuff returned to his family.

Cesar Prince, born in 1757, and his brother Festus, born in 1763, were the eldest sons of Abijah Terry and Lucy Terry Prince. Their father was a free black man who owned land in Deerfield, Massachusetts, where they were both born, and in Guilford, Vermont, where the family moved in the 1760s. Their mother was a gifted speaker and the author of the first poem known to be written by an African American woman. Cesar and Festus went to Massachusetts to enlist in the Continental army. After the war, Festus returned to Vermont, married, and began farming.

James Forten was born into a free Philadelphia family in 1766. Forten's great-grandfather was an enslaved African who had been brought to the Delaware Valley before the arrival of the English, and his grandfather was one of the first slaves in Pennsylvania to purchase his own freedom. At the age of 14, Forten enlisted as a powder boy on the Royal Louis, a privateer commissioned by Pennsylvania. After a month at sea, the ship was captured by the British. Instead of being sold into slavery in the West Indies, Forten was sent to a prison ship, where he spent seven months before being released in a prisoner exchange.

It is estimated that nearly 5,000 free blacks served in the American army and navies during the war.

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Related Entries:
Venture Smith
Lucy Terry Prince
The Forten women
Colin Powell on blacks fighting during the Revolutionary War
Betty Wood on blacks fighting in the American Revolution
Peter Wood on black men during the Revolutionary War

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