Celebrating Black History in Portsmouth: “The Black Regiment”

#BlackHistoryMonth Celebrating Black History in Portsmouth: “The Black Regiment” Another great article by Rhode Island historian Gloria Schmidt sketches out the history of the very first Black regiments in US military history.

portsmouthhistorynotes

On February 14, 1778, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to allow “every able-bodied Negro, mulatto, or Indian slave in this state to enlist into either of the Continental Battalions being raised.” The Assembly specified that: “every slave so enlightening shall, upon the passing muster before Colonel Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress and be absolutely free.” Owners of the slaves enlisted were to be compensated by the Assembly for the market value of the slave.

Before 1778 Blacks had not been allowed to serve in the Continental Army. Rhode Island had trouble meeting its recruitment quotas with just white men, so General Varnum wrote to George Washington with the idea of allowing the ranks to be filled with Black and Native Americans. He asked Washington to send soldiers from Valley Forge to recruit these men.

Camp [Valley Forge] Janry 2d 177[8]1 Sir—The two…

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