By the end of the war from 5,000 to 8,000 blacks had served the American cause in some capacity, either on the battlefield, behind the lines in noncombatant roles, or on the seas.
By 1777 some states began enacting laws that encouraged white owners to give slaves for the army in return for their enlistment bounty, or allowing masters to use slaves as substitutes when they or their sons were drafted.
James Lafayette, who supported the American cause as a spy, may have been the inspiration for the figure on the right in the 18th-century engraving, in the Jamestown-Yorktown collection, depicting the Marquis de Lafayette at Yorktown.
Only 50 years after the defeat of the British at Yorktown, most Americans had already forgotten the extensive role black people had played on both sides during the War for Independence.
At the 1876 Centennial Celebration of the Revolution in Philadelphia, not a single speaker acknowledged the contributions of African Americans in establishing the nation.
Yet by 1783, thousands of black Americans had become involved in the war.
Two of these men, Salem Poor and Peter Salem, earned special distinction for their bravery.
By 1776, however, it had become clear that the revolutionary rhetoric of the founding fathers did not include enslaved blacks.
In 1774 Abigail Adams wrote, “it always appeared a most iniquitious scheme to me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.” Widespread talk of liberty gave thousands of slaves high expectations, and many were ready to fight for a democratic revolution that might offer them freedom.
In 1775 at least 10 to 15 black soldiers, including some slaves, fought against the British at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill.