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Black patriot soldiers were unsung heroes of Revolution

Black patriot soldiers were unsung heroes of Revolution

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Images from the American Revolution, and the period leading up to it, are legendary.

Take the painting of the Boston Massacre of 1770, of which John Adams wrote: "The foundation of American independence was laid that night." The painting's central figure is Crispus Attucks, leader of the attack on the customs house and among the first killed. Attucks was a black man.

Interestingly, if you search through other images of the Revolution done in that period, you can sometimes find the black soldiers who rightfully belong there. And sometimes you cannot.

I've seen an engraving of the Battle of Bunker Hill with blacks portrayed. Among the dozen or more blacks - enslaved and free - who fought there were Peter Salem, Titus Coburn, Alexander Ames, Cato Howe, Barzilai Lew and Cuff Whittemore.

Salem, an enslaved black freed by his owners to enlist and fight, was responsible for the death of British Maj. John Pitcairn at Bunker Hill.

However, images of Lexington and Concord don't include the black Minuteman who fought there, including Peter Salem and Pomp Blackman. There is debate whether Granville resident, the Rev. Lemuel Haynes, fought at Lexington, but he did memorialize it in an epic poem, among the many published works of the brilliant theologian.

Haynes brings to mind another famed image of the Revolution where black Patriots should be seen but are not - the seizure of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. You all know the image of Ethan Allen, demanding the fort to be surrendered "in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress."

We know from different sources that Lemuel Haynes, Primus Black, Epheram Blackman and Barzilai Lew were among the Green Mountain Boys with Allen that day.

Obviously when Haynes fought alongside Ethan Allen and the other Green Mountain Boys, he liked the look of where he was and decided to return to settle. He did and became pastor of the Congregational Church in West Rutland, Vt., in the late 1790s.

Haynes was far from the only black patriot ever to have fought in this area and later settled here after war's end. Veteran Prince Taylor also stayed on to become one of Ticonderoga's earliest settlers, co-founder of the Congregational Church, and reportedly the man for whom Black Point is named.

As noted last week, 2002 marks the 225th anniversary of the defeat of British Gen. John Burgoyne at the battles of Saratoga. American patriot blacks fought at several key engagements in Burgoyne's campaign. The Battle of Hubbardton, Vt., on July 7, 1777, is a case in point.

The Battle of Hubbardton by Col. John Williams notes the presence of four black patriot soldiers at that battle. Titus Wilson of Peterborough, N.H., fought with Col. Cilley's Regiment. Wilson was wounded and captured, and died that same day.

Simeon Grandison of Scituate, Mass., fought at the battle, but it not known with what regiment he served. Asa Perham (also spelled Purham and Pearham) served and fought that day with Col. Nathan Hale's 2nd New Hampshire Regiment, as did Nicholas Vintrom. Vintrom also spelled Vixtrom, who was captured by the British, but survived.

You've probably surmised that black patriots, such as Minutemen Peter Salem and Cuff Whittemore, fought at so many of the pivotal Revolutionary battles. For example, both Salem and Whittemore faced Burgoyne twice: once at Bunker Hill in 1775 and again at Saratoga in 1777. I'll end with a recounting of Whittemore's bravery.

Whittemore fought at Saratoga, where British forces captured him. Brought to Burgoyne's tent, he was ordered by a British regular to take Burgoyne's horse, as if to hold the reins like a groom or some such thing. Whittemore did, indeed, take Burgoyne's horse, but not as ordered. Instead he mounted it and, amidst whizzing musket balls, sped off to freedom on Burgoyne's own steed! Whittemore added an ultimate insult to the overall injury of defeat Burgoyne would suffer at Saratoga.

From this time on, may our images of the American Revolution - whether painting, movie or computer image - portray our patriots in all their true colors.

Joseph Cutshall-King, the history columnist for The Post-Star, is also Washington County historian. His column appears in the Local section each Saturday. He may be reached via e-mail via cutshallking@yahoo.com

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