Nineteenth-Century Remembrances of Black Revolutionary Veterans: Edward Hector, Bombardier and Wagoner


February 9, 2021
by John Rees Also by this Author


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Nat Turner launched a bloody uprising among enslaved Virginians in Southampton County in 1831 the same year that William Lloyd Garrison of Boston began publishing The Liberator, the most famous anti-slavery newspaper. In 1833, the American Antislavery Society, led by Garrison, was organized in Philadelphia. For the next three decades, the Society campaigned that slavery was illegal under natural law, and saw the Constitution as “a covenant with hell.” Within five years, the organization had more than 1,350 chapters and over 250,000 members. In 1834, August 1 became a Black American and abolitionist holiday when Britain abolished slavery in its colonies. That was also the year that Revolutionary War veteran Edward Hector died.

In March 1777 Edward Hector, a “colored man,” was listed as a bombardier in Col. Thomas Proctor’s Pennsylvania State Artillery Regiment. It was a rank that engendered some skill and responsibility, as bombardiers were “those employed about mortars [and other types of artillery]; they drive the fuse, fix the shell, and load and fire the mortar; they work with the fireworkmen, and are the third rank of a private man in a company of artillery” (muster roll extracts seem to use the terms bombardier and gunner interchangeably: the “fire-workmen” or “fire-workers” were “the youngest commissioned Officers in a company of artillery”).[1]

By autumn 1777, perhaps due to the ban on Black participation in the newly-enacted Pennsylvania militia law or that a Black bombardier was superior in rank to a white matross (the least-skilled position on a gun crew), Hector was relegated to being a wagoner in Proctor’s regiment. Mr. Hector never applied for a federal pension, and when he petitioned for a state pension he was denied. The year prior to his death he was awarded a one-time forty-dollar gratuity in recognition of his service.[2]

Edward Hector’s death notice, published in the January 1834 Norristown Free Press, noted:

During the war of the revolution, his conduct on one memorable occasion, exhibited an example of patriotism and bravery which deserves to be recorded. At the battle of Brandywine he had charge of an ammunition wagon attached to Colonel Proctor’s regiment, and when the American army was obliged to retreat, an order was given by the proper officers to those having charge of the wagons, to abandon them to the enemy, and save themselves by flight. The heroic reply of the deceased was uttered in the true spirit of the Revolution: ‘The enemy shall not have my team; I will save my horses and myself!’ He instantly started on his way, and as he proceeded, amid the confusion of the surrounding scene, he calmly gathered up a few stands of arms which had been left on the field by the retreating soldiers, and safely retired with his wagon, team and all, in face of the victorious foe.[3]


[1]Thomas Lynch Montgomery, ed., Pennsylvania Archives(Harrisburg: Harrisburg Publishing Co., State Printer, 1906) Series 5, 3: 1056; Thomas Simes, The Military Medley: Containing the most necessary Rules and Directions for attaining a Competent Knowledge of the Art: To which is added an Explanation of Military Terms, second edition (London, 1768), “Military Dictionary” following page 302; gunner, “one appointed for the service of the cannon, and is the second in rank of private men in the artillery”; matross, “is a soldier in the train of artillery, properly an apprentice of a gunner, and hath the least pay of any soldier in the artillery.”

[2]“Report of the committee on claims, on the claim of Edward Hector, a revolutionary soldier,” The Journal of the (Pennsylvania) House of Representatives, 1826–1827, Report No. 218, 493–494; William Summers, “Obituary Notices of Pennsylvania Soldiers of the Revolution,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 38 (1914), 443–444.

[3]Norristown Free Press, January 15, 1834.

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