June 20, 2002
Brothers-in-Arms recognizes role of African-American patriots, loyalists
Colonial Williamsburg’s Brothers-In-Arms weekend program, June 22-23, recognizes the contributions of African-Americans as Black Loyalists and Black Patriots during the American Revolution. “Brothers-in-Arms: Slavery and the American Revolution,” held this year at Colonial Williamsburg’s Bruton Heights School Education Center adjacent to the Historic Area, explores the contradiction of slavery and freedom as free blacks and slaves fought for their own freedom and that of the nation.
Throughout the weekend, which this year focuses only on the 18th-century military experience, the program will highlight a forgotten part of our nation’s history and honor the contributions of African-Americans to the founding of our nation during the American Revolution. The “Brothers-in-Arms” program also provides an educational experience through an 18th-century military encampment, military demonstrations, lectures and vignettes that dramatize the experiences of slaves, soldiers and female camp followers during the Revolutionary period (1774 –1781).
Since the arrival of the first Africans in the British colony of Virginia in 1619, black indentured servants and enslaved people resisted and fought for freedom. Runaways, rebellions and conspiracies occurred throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Governor Dunmore’s Proclamation of 1775 created an opportunity for enslaved people to seek freedom and become actively engaged in the Revolutionary War. The proclamation offered freedom to all able-bodied slaves willing to join His Majesty’s troops. Some enslaved people not only fled their plantations, but also took up arms against their former masters to gain their freedom. Governor Dunmore named the black regiment of former slaves Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment. Later, the patriots mocked Dunmore as “King of the Negroes.”
By 1778, the American Continental Army began to officially offer slaves the opportunity to fight for the patriot cause. Rhode Island faced a shortage of white male recruits and began to purchase the freedom of male slaves and enlist them in the First Rhode Island Regiment. In 1781 the First Rhode Island Regiment marched into Virginia to fight in the decisive battle of the Revolution at Yorktown.
The Norfolk Southern Foundation and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities have provided funding to support African-American military programming at Colonial Williamsburg.
Lorraine C. Brooks