Facing South
Facing South

INSTITUTE INDEX: Slavery and the American Revolution

Percent of America's 13 colonies that practiced slavery in 1775, the year the American War of Independence began: 100

Number of enslaved blacks who lived in the colonies at that time: 450,000

Percent of black slaves who lived in the southern colonies of Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas: about 75

Month in which slaves in eastern North Carolina confessed to planning an insurrection with hopes of being welcomed by the British and rewarded with their own government: 7/1775

Date when Lord Dunmore, the British governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation promising freedom to any slave, owned by a rebel, who made it to British lines: 11/17/1775

Rank of Lord Dunmore's Proclamation among the earliest mass emancipations of slaves in American history: 1st

Date on which the Virginia Assembly responded with a declaration of its own, ordering that "all negro or other slaves, conspiring to rebel or make insurrection, shall suffer death, and be excluded all benefit of clergy": 12/14/1775

Within a month of Dunmore's proclamation, number of black soldiers who were fighting in the Royal Ethiopian brigade, with the insignia "Liberty to Slaves" embroidered on their uniforms: about 300

Total number of blacks who eventually joined Dunmore's regiment: 800

Total number of blacks who fought for the British during the war: fewer than 1,000

Estimated number of blacks who served in the Continental Army: 5,000

Of the 2,400 American soldiers who fought at the early Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, percent who were black: about 5

Estimated percent of the Continental Army that by the war's end were "Negroes, merry, confident and sturdy," according to Baron von Closen, who fought with the French at the decisive Siege of Yorktown: 25

Date on which General George Washington, who personally owned hundreds of slaves, allowed free blacks with prior military experience to enlist in the Continental Army: 1/1776

Months later that Washington, concerned about his army's depleted ranks, expanded enlistment to all free blacks: 12

Year in which Congress, faced with states unable to meet manpower quotas, authorized enlistment of all blacks, free and slave: 1777

Number of the Southern states that allowed blacks to enlist in the Revolutionary Army: 1*

Amount Congress eventually offered slave masters in Georgia and South Carolina for each slave provided to the Continental Army: $1,000

Number of those states' legislatures that allowed slaveholders to accept the offer: 0

At the war's end, estimated number of slaves who defected to or were captured by the British: 20,000

Number who died of disease or wounds or were recaptured by the Patriots: 8,000

Number who left the country for freedom in Canada or slavery in the West Indies: 12,000

Number of names that appeared in a registry called the "Book of Negroes," the compilation of which was overseen by Congress, allowing former slaves who served in the British army to avoid return to their former owners: 3,000

Total estimated number of African Americans who escaped, died or were killed during the American Revolution: 100,000

* Maryland, which Facing South does not count among the 13 Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia)

(Click on figure to go to source. Portrait of an unknown black Revolutionary War sailor, painted by an unknown artist, from The Newport Historical Society via PBS. )

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Facing South
Facing South
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