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Revolutionary African-Americans Who Fought for Freedom

When Martin Luther King, Jr., arrived in Boston in the fall of 1951, the word “‘freedom” was very much in the air. The Freedom Trail had just been created, an instant and enduring success. Tourists flocked to the path that marked steps taken by such Revolutionary heroes as Paul Revere, Sam Adams and John Hancock.

Plenty of other heroes who fought for freedom and dignity during the Revolutionary era. The New England Historical Society presents six stories about African-Americans who struggled for liberty.

African Americans Seeking Freedom

already a memberBlack Kings and Governors of Early New England: For a century beginning in 1750, New England African-Americans elected 31 of their own black kings and governors. These early leaders presided over an informal social order, It prepared African-Americans for their role as free civic participants.

register nowCrispus Attucks, a seafaring African-American, led a crowd of mostly white sailors into danger and history by inciting the Boston Massacre.

In New England, African-Americans fought and suffered and died in the American Revolution. As many as one-quarter of the men who served in the war were African-American. Tobias Gilmore won his freedom by fighting in the American Revolution. In his hometown of Raynham, Mass., on every July 4th he fired a cannon 14 times. He fired 13 for each of the original colonies and then one for George Washington.

Elizabeth Freeman couldn’t read but she knew what freedom meant. So she took her case to court in Massachusetts. “If one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it,” she said.

Ona Judge Staines outwitted her slavemaster – George Washington. She escaped to freedom in Portsmouth, N.H., and then eluded his attempts to get her back.

Paul Cuffe, a Quaker who lived in Westport, R.I., was the wealthiest African American in the country. He was taken prisoner during the American Revolution, Afterwards he decided the best hope for his people was to return to Africa.

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