African Americans and Native Americans of the Revolutionary War Era Who Should Be Better Remembered


February 15, 2022
by Editors Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

We regularly ask our contributors questions about the American Revolution and founding era. This month we’ve asked them to tell us about an African American or Native American associated with the 1765-1805 era who does NOT have a Wikipedia entry, but who should.

Lars D. H. Hedbor

The Marquis de Rouvray, who commanded the regiment of Chausseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue. This force, comprised entirely of gens de couleur from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (renamed as Haiti after it achieved independence), fought alongside American forces in the bloody—and doomed—attempt to retake Savannah from the British in 1779. De Rouvray was the only Black officer in the regiment, and was notably successful at finding volunteers among Saint-Domingue’s free Black and mixed-race populations, as well as raising recruits from among the enslaved, who were promised their freedom in exchange for service.

Michael M. Wood

George Washington called him “my old friend.” The son of an African father and a Saint-François Abenaki mother, Atiatonharongwen (aka Louis Cook) received a commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army on June 15, 1779. Lieutenant Colonel Cook, the highest-ranking person of color in the Continental Army, served with honor until the end of the war.

Robert S. Davis

Emistisiguo, powerful Creek leader and possibly also African American, was a steadfast ally of the British and enemy of the American cause before and during the American Revolution. He died in battle trying to kill Gen. Anthony Wayne near Savannah on June 24, 1782. For more on him, search the articles in Journal of the American Revolution and, as “Emisteseguo,” in Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, both free online journals.

Eric Wiser

Peter Nelson of Massachusetts. At two years old in 1765, Peter was sold to the Nelson family of Lincoln, Massachusetts. Nelson joined the war effort at twelve years old, and by fifteen was serving in Thomas Poor’s Massachusetts Militia Regiment. He was present at Bunker Hill, Saratoga and Yorktown. See Joyce Lee Malcolm’s Peter’s War: A New England Slave Boy and the American Revolution (Yale: 2009).

Jonathan Bayer

Sophia Burthen Pooley was an enslaved woman who at age seven was kidnapped from Fishkill, New York, with her sister and eventually sold to the Kanienʼkeháka (Mohawk) leader Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), who brought her to Canada following the end of the American Revolution. She was sold at the age of twelve to former Loyalist captain Samuel Hatt, who she remained enslaved to for seven years when neighbors informed her that she was free due to recent anti-slavery legislation. Hatt did not stop her leaving and she lived the rest of her life as a free woman in Upper Canada. Pooley’s account of her life can be found in Benjamin Drew’s 1856 book A North-Side View of Slavery. The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada. Related by Themselves, with an Account of the History and Condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada.

John U. Rees

In late 1780 Fortune Stoddard enlisted in one of two companies remaining of the “black” 1st Rhode Island Regiment. In December 1781, returning north from the Yorktown siege, Stoddard and some fellow soldiers, Black and White, in the house where they were billeted, were attacked by several civilians. Private Stoddard shot and killed one of the attackers, a ship’s captain. He was charged with murder, convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to a fine, and to be branded on the thumb. This mirrors another instance in Rhode Island when another Black private on guard duty killed a civilian, received the same sentence, and was released. Stoddard, however, could not pay the fine, and the Cecil County, Maryland civil court decided he be sold into slavery to pay his fine. Congress, via General Washington, interceded to have the fine paid, but Fortune Stoddard was still in custody when the war ended. He was eventually freed, and returned to Rhode Island.

Larry Kidder

Jacob Francis (1754-1836) was a free Black man who successfully enlisted in what became the 16th Continental Regiment in October 1775 at the time General Washington was trying to prevent Black enlistments. He served through the siege of Boston, the New York campaign, and was one of very few New Jersey born men at the Battle of Trenton. After his enlistment expired, he served in the Third Hunterdon County militia regiment of New Jersey for the rest of the war. After the war, he and his family continued to fight for the abolition of slavery and equal rights for all people.

Conner Runyan

Just at the point it seemed Brig. Gen. Andrew Williamson’s estate was to be confiscated for war crimes, having been accused of being an “obnoxious person” (traitor), Gen. Nathanael Greene stepped forward and informed the war-time South Carolina General Assembly that the old general had provided some of the best intelligence he received during the British occupation of Charleston. The individual who risked his life (summary hanging would have been his fate if even remotely suspected by the British) to obtained much of this information was Prince, a man enslaved by Williamson. When Williamson’s estate was inventoried following his death a few years later, there were two enslaved men named “Prince” listed as property, along with their value. This unknown patriot, even if a reluctant one, deserved better. It was the fate of Prince to die enslaved, denied even clear recognition on the only documentation we have of his life.

Don N. Hagist

Thomas Walker, drummer, 29th Regiment of Foot. Accounts of tensions between Bostonians and British soldiers in 1770 often mention Walker, whom an onlooker to an altercation called “a tall negro drummer, to whom I called, you black rascal, what have you to do with white people’s quarrels?” Walker had joined the regiment before 1765 and was still with it when the 29th arrived in Quebec in 1776. With the regiment’s grenadier company, he was in General Burgoyne’s army when it surrendered at Saratoga in October 1777. Faithfully staying with his fellow prisoners as they were marched hundreds of miles around North America, Walker died of unknown causes while a prisoner of war in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in July 1781.

J. Brett Bennett

Ishmael Titus. Born into slavery, in the American Revolution he served as a one-year substitute for Lawrence Ross of Rowan County, North Carolina and was granted manumission at the end of his enlistment term. Titus then re-enlisted as a freedman and was assigned to other North Carolina militia units with Gen. Nathanael Greene’s forces serving in the Carolinas, fighting at the important battles of Kings Mountain, Deep River and Guilford Courthouse. Interestingly, Titus’s pension affidavit provides an account of his being captured by Tories within days of his discharge in what is now East Tennessee. He was temporarily held with Col. Benjamin Cleveland, but after being tasked with searching for the Tories’ horses one morning, Titus encountered Patriot troops, including Colonel Cleveland’s sons, and led them back to the Tories’ mountain camp to successfully free those who had been captured. After the War Titus moved to New England, ultimately settling in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He reportedly lived to well past one hundred years of age.

Adam E. Zielinski

In researching the Southern Theater, I was reminded of the African American soldier who saved Col. William Washington at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781. Depicted on canvas in 1845 by artist William Ranney, according to General Daniel Morgan this man was the “young slave William Bell,” whose pistol shot a member of Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s dragoons as Washington and Tarleton were locked in a clash of swords. It would be wonderful if someone discovered information on Mr. Bell and made it available. Though a marginal figure in the day’s events, he once again shows us that African Americans were very much visibly fighting in the Revolutionary War, and in the complicated service of the Southern American forces.

Brian Patrick O’Malley

Weoffkee, also known as the Long Warrior, was the “knower” or seer of the Seminole town of Alachua, near modern Gainesville, Florida. Alachua was still part of the Lower Creek Nation, centered in Georgia. William Bartram illustrated a famous portrait of Weoffkee. Bartram also described Weoffkee threatening to call lightning from the sky while haggling with a merchant. Seminoles often sent their famed seer to Anglo-Creek conferences, instead of their main leader, to compel Creek leaders to show more respect to the Seminole envoy.

Daniel J. Tortora

Several years ago, I profiled six Indian Patriots from Eastern Massachusetts for JAR. I’d now like to recognize Capt. Ambrose Bear of what is today the Maliseet tribe (then St. John or St. John’s Indians). He was a diplomat, soldier, tribal leader—a leading player in the Maine-New Brunswick borderlands. Ambrose Bear was a negotiator and signer of the Treaty of Watertown in July 1776. Months later, as a captain, he “behav’d most gallantly” while fighting with other Indians in Col. Jonathan Eddy’s ill-fated expedition against British-held Fort Cumberland, New Brunswick. In 1777, Captain Bear and dozens of Indians in canoes helped defend the town of Machias from an attack by British warships—all while taking direct cannon fire. Prior to his death from illness in 1780, Captain Bear was also vital to Indian agent Col. John Allan’s efforts in the region. In 2016, following the efforts of an ancestor, a stream crossed by highway I-95 in Houlton, Maine, was officially renamed after this important Indian of the Revolutionary War era. One would hope that Captain Bear, who has long been honored by his people, is further recognized by non-Indians for his contributions.

Christian M. McBurney

Quako Honeyman. One of the outstanding special operations of the Revolutionary War occurred on the night of July 10, 1777, when Lt. Col. William Barton and a band of forty-seven men rowed whaleboats across Narragansett Bay, landed on British-held Aquidneck Island, marched a mile to a house where Maj.Gen. Richard Prescott was spending the night, grabbed Prescott, and hustled him back across the bay, all without a shot being fired. Maj. Frederick Mackenzie, an aide to Prescott, wrote that Barton must have had “the most perfect intelligence” as the raiders could not have selected a better route. Barton gained valuable information from Quako Honeyman, who had recently been an enslaved servant working in Prescott’s service and who had then courageously escaped from Aquidneck Island to the mainland across the bay. In recognition of his services, the Rhode Island legislature emancipated him. Black people were a good source of information because whites typically underestimated their abilities as spies. I wrote about Honeyman in my books Kidnapping the Enemy and Spies in Revolutionary Rhode Island.

James Kirby Martin

Thomas Sinavis was an Oneida peace sachem and warrior who supported the rebel cause and was killed at the Battle of Barren Hill on May 20, 1778. The Marquis de Lafayette led a column of about 2,000 soldiers, including some fifty Oneida warriors, out from Valley Forge and across the Schuylkill River to reconnoiter British positions in the Philadelphia area. Almost overrun by unexpected, advancing British forces, Lafayette effected a successful retreat but only because some of his scouts, among them Sinavis, engaged British cavalry in a bloody delaying action. Sinavis’s date of birth is unknown, but scant sources suggest that he was in his twenties or early thirties. He had earlier engaged in daring exploits that helped warn Philip Schuyler and others about the imminence of John Burgoyne’s 1777 invasion from Canada. Sinavis’s remains are buried at St. Peter’s Church in Barren Hill. The grave marker reads: “Six Indian Scouts Who Died in Battle May 1778.”


  • My nineth great grandfather, William Lomax/Lomack, was a private in the American Continental Army. He served 5 years 2 months. He fought in six battles and was wounded twice. One in the shoulder and one in the hip. He lived to be 106 years old. He stayed in Cumberland County, Fayetteville, NC. His grandson, Rev. Thomas Henry Lomax, with four other men started the Howard School. Later named Fayetteville State University.

  • One for future inclusion is Daniel Nimham, sachem of the Wappingers tribe in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Had all of his tribe’s lands taen illegally my members of the Phillips family (Philipsburg Manor, Sleepy Hollow) while he and his tribesmen were off volunteering to fight in the F&I Wr. Returned home to find his lands rented out to tenant famers via illegal paperwork. Lost his claims in court, and was forced to move with his family to the then missionary town of Stockbridge, MA. Joined the Patriot militia and was killed, along with his son Abraham, while on a scouting mission in a British /Hessian ambush at the Kingsbridge, today’s Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.
    A monument to him is to be dedicated in Fishkill, NY sometime this coming spring.

  • Eric Wiser calls our attention to Peter Nelson, an enslaved youth of Lincoln who served in the Revolution. However, readers who turn to Joyce Malcolm’s book, “Peter’s War,” should bear in mind Malcolm’s warning that she has combined the details of several Black veterans named Peter in writing her tale. This can produce some confusion. For instance, there is no record that Peter Nelson began military service in 1775 when he was only twelve years old. Still, he is credited with service at Ticonderoga in 1777 when he would have been only 14. Patriotism, indeed!

  • Catawba Indian John Nettles was educated at the College of William and Mary and was a Major in the militia. He was just one of the Catawba Indians that fought with Nathanael Greene in his Southern Campaign against Cornwallis.

    My 3rd Great Grandfather and his brother-in-law fought Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton (as members of Col. Henry Lee’s Legion) at the Battle of Clapp’s Mill prior to the Battle of Guildford Courthouse NC. Catawba Indians were also members of this group.

  • Elizabeth, or Liss was born about 1763 in Oyster Bay, New York was enslaved by the Townsend family, whose son Robert became George Washington’s lead spy in Manhattan. Her enslaver Samuel Townsend was a leading Patriot on Long Island and member of the New York Provincial Congress. In 1778 the Townsend home became the headquarters of a British commander and early abolitionist named Col. John Graves Simcoe and during his stay Liss met his friend, the British spymaster, John André. Simcoe helped Liss to escape in 1779, but she was re-enslaved in New York City by another British officer. During the war Liss had contact with Robert Townsend, aka “Culper Jr.” who used invisible ink and spy codes to send intelligence reports to Washington as part of the Culper Spy Ring. When her British enslaver was going to evacuate at the war’s end, Liss appealed to Robert to help her stay in New York City. After the war Liss was sold to a recently widowed woman who promised Robert she would not take Liss out of Manhattan. However, when the woman remarried, unbeknownst to Robert, Liss was sold south to Charleston, South Carolina and separated from her two-year-old son, who remained enslaved in New York City. In Charleston Liss was re-enslaved by a violent man named Richard Palmes who had been the instigator of the Boston Massacre of 1770. After two years Robert, who had joined an early anti-slavery group called the New York Manumission Society, discovered what had happened to Liss. He brought her son to Oyster Bay and worked to bring Liss back to New York in hopes of finally helping her to become free.
    Her story crosses paths with well-known historical figures and events including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Benedict Arnold, Jupiter Hammon, John André, and John Adams, as well the Culper Spy Ring, the Boston Massacre, the Sons of Liberty, the Battle of Long Island, the Great Chain, Franklin’s Paris negotiations, and the Benedict Arnold treason plot. These fascinating connections serve to anchor her narrative in a way that people can connect to and remember. Liss’s true story gives a fresh voice and a new perspective to the country’s founding in New York, from the point of view of an enslaved Black woman seeking personal liberty in a country fighting for its own. Learn more in “Espionage and Enslavement in the evolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth” by Claire Bellerjeau and Tiffany Yecke Brooks, published in May 2021 by Lyons Press.

  • General New River Catawba Nation Chief was with General Thomas Sumter Mecklenburg militia Light Horse regiment, Waxhaw Creek regiment Major William Richardson Davie and Kershaw county Turkey Creek Warriors Major Robert Crawford., We joined Col Thomas Sumter 2nd regiment South Carolina line. 3rd regiment North Carolina continental line General Jethro Sumner. New River was at Change of command Dec 2nd 1780 General Hatio Gates and General Nathaniel Greene. We were at the siege of Charleston with Samuel Boykin 1776 on order of Henry Laurens, When Rowen and Cornwallis got to the Waxhaw Catawba Nation we had left the night before and joined General Rutherford’s Cavalry., British were met by 4 white men and 5 Catawba moving briskly down the Catawba River.. General Richard Winn had took refuge with the Catawba., Deserted his Plantation, and others as well.

  • John Vinson/Jean Vincent, a Lorette Huron (Wendake) chief. In his own words, he “constantly directed his arrows against the British Sachem. From the river Kennebec, through the wilderness to Quebec, he pointed out the way, and fought under General Montgomery, at the siege of that place. Following the fortune of the Americans, he fought under General Gates, at Stillwater, and assisted in taking Gen. Burgoyne, and at various other places; and during the whole war, was engaged in the American service.” In 1779, the Wendakes disowned him under British pressure, after which he remained associated with the Kahnawake nation.

  • Descendants of Louis Cook now believe – as a result of dna tests – that he was a Carib Indian enslaved and sent north and not an African as they previously believed.

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