Table of Contents
Slavery and Military Service
The Valuable Addition of African American Regiments:
A Comparison and Contrast of African Americans Role in the War for Independence and the Civil War
America was founded on the principle of freedom. With this in mind, it comes as little surprise that both the War for Independence and the Civil War have the similarity that they both involved the struggle for freedom. Both wars sought to overcome oppression and both wars encompassed a vision of basic human rights connected with a sense of justice. The other similarity these two wars shared was the heroic efforts of African Americans in their participation in the fight for freedom. This paper will seek to compare and contrast their involvement in these to similar, but different wars.
To understand African American involvement in the Revolutionary War, one must first paint a picture of what colonial life was like. Colonists faced the labor-intensive task of trying to carve out a life on a new continent. These were harsh conditions unlike many had ever experienced. Everything had to be created from scratch, roadways, housing, farmland, etc. In addition, company backers, which paid the way for many of the colonists and continued to supply them with goods, expected a return on their investment, in the form of exported goods from the New World. Colonists were in desperate need of laborers to accomplish these enormous tasks, and as such the American colonists turned to the use of indentured servants and slaves.
As the colonies grew into the original Thirteen Colonies, the labor demands intensified. Many of the indentured servants were freed, and thus, only the slaves were left to continue on with the labor. In a way to fulfill this increasing demand, in 1650, slavery was legalized in America.
Slavery and Military Service
As war broke out in the New World, African Americans, whether they were free, slaves, or ex-slaves, both men and some women, took up arms and fought along side white colonists, in an effort to establish their independence from England’s rule. Approximately 5,000 African Americans served in the War for Independence. “Some carried muskets. Still others served as substitutes for White men as messengers, guides, teamsters, laborers, and spies. They served not only in the Army, but in the Continental Navy as well. And, most served in integrated units.”
Interestingly, General George Washington initially refused to allow slaves in the military service. He felt it would be devastating to slave owners to have their slaves leave the plantations to enlist in the military. As a slave owner himself, George Washington owned more than 300 slaves, and had intimate knowledge of what this would do to his personal holdings should a quantity of his slaves take up arms and leave his service. Washington had made this stance not because he doubted the courage of slaves, but because he believed it would be a detriment to the American economy. (“Revolutionary War”)
However, this did not stop slaves from joining the military. “In New England, many slaves ran away to join the army; others joined in place of their masters – a practice that continued up to the time of the Civil War.” Finally, after Washington discovered that the Royal Governor of Virginia, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, was actively enlisting slaves and indentured servants into the British army with the promise of giving freedom to all slaves that would fight for the King’s army, Washington lifted the ban on slaves enlisting in the Colonial military, and all African Americans were allowed to fight for the freedom the country now enjoys.
 “Revolutionary War.” Blacfax 9(39) Summer 2001: p. 6-7. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOHost. University of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ. May 25, 2004 <http://www.epnet.com>.
 “Revolutionary War.”