We will celebrate the Fourth of July again next week. It will be the 244th birthday of what some call the American experiment. I still revel in the holiday, even though I have celebrated it more times than I care to mention.
Many of the American colonists didn’t much care for the treatment they were getting from England, and King George III didn’t take that attitude from “his” colonists very well. He said, in effect, “Now just hang on there, fellas. America is mine and I’ll do with it as I please.”
Well, that’s my Southern interpretation of Georgie, and his reaction didn’t sit well with many of our ancestors. Some of them began to think of themselves as Americans, not British. Enough did and so after a bunch of back and forth, some rigmarole, and some bloodshed, those Americans just up and declared independence. Take that Georgie!
Each year, I love to celebrate those heroes who looked Great Britain in the eye and said if we can’t be treated properly as British citizens, then we will just go make our own country. The heroes of the Revolution are worthy of being honored, so here we go.
Crispus Attucks, a Boston whaler, is regarded by many historians as the first person killed in the Revolution. It happened at the Boston Massacre when British troops fired on protestors, killing a total of five, including Attucks.
Phyliss Wheatley, a young poet who early on in the struggle sent words of encouragement in a letter to George Washington.
Peter Salem, Barzillai Lew, Blaney Grusha, Titus Coburn, Alexander Ames, Cato Howe, and Seymour Burr were just a few of the patriots who fought at Bunker Hill (it was really Breeds Hill, but that is for another day). They took a stand against the overwhelming odds of the British Army that day. Salem was credited with killing British Major John Pitcairn, making Salem a hero.
James Armistead was a spy for both sides, a double agent whose real loyalty was with the Continentals. Without a doubt, his biggest contribution was to warn Gen. Lafayette, the French ally of the Americans, of a British move to reinforce Gen. Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. This knowledge allowed the American and French forces to blockade Cornwallis’ position, lay a siege at Yorktown, and force the Brits to surrender. It was not the last battle of the war, but it was a major blow to the powers in London.
Did you think I was going to heap more praise on Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson? Oh, they’re worthy, but there is plenty about those guys. I’d rather think about the lesser known people without whom we might still be British subjects. Tea anyone?
One more thing. Did I mention those heroes listed above were all black? Some were slaves, some were free. Many fought to earn their freedom as both sides offered emancipation to slaves who signed up. About four times as many slaves fought for the British than for the Continentals.
Even in loss, the British honored their promise, transporting the former slaves to other parts of the empire at the war’s end. To be completely fair to Britain, they outlawed slavery in 1833. The U.S., where in 1776 we enshrined the words “that all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, didn’t do so until 1865, and that was after a brutal civil war.
Today, we are still cursed with systemic problems that can be directly traced back to this country’s original sin of slavery. Progress has been made, but, agonizingly, too slowly. The struggle for total freedom and equality continues.
America, though, is a great experiment and continues to evolve to fully complete that sentence in the Declaration; “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The heroes I’ve mentioned, and many more I didn’t, teach us that African-Americans have played a huge role in this country. Black lives mattered during the Revolution. They still do.
To learn more about the African-American experience during the Revolutionary War, read Brave Black Patriots by Idella Bodie.