African American patriot Salem Poor of Andover, Massachusetts fought with distinction in the American Revolution. He purchased his freedom in 1769 for 27 pounds (about one year’s salary). Soon after, he married a freedwoman named Nancy by whom he had a son. In May of 1775 Poor enlisted in the Continental Army and distinguished himself at the Battle of Bunker Hill (Charlestown) where he was sent to assist in the building of fortifications. Six months later, white veterans petitioned the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to recognize Poor’s exemplary service at the Battle of Charlestown, citing that he had ”behaved like an experienced officer.” His comrades stated that in Poor “centers a brave and gallant soldier.” “To set forth particulars of his conduct would be tedious.” Of the thousands of American soldiers at Bunker Hill no other was given such recognition.
During Poor’s time of service in the Continental Army, Commander in Chief George Washington vacillated in his position concerning the service African Americans in the U.S. military. By July of 1775, Washington halted the enlistment of African Americans into the army, although he allowed those already in service to remain. Six months later, African Americans were prohibited from reenlistment as well. Washington later reversed his position when the British Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore in his proclamation, freed all the colony’s slaves willing to fight for the British. Nearly 5,000 African Americans fought for the United States, but many more joined British forces, lured by the promise of freedom.
Salem Poor fought at Bunker Hill, Monmouth, and Saratoga. He also served at Valley Forge and White Plains; he was supposedly discharged sometime in 1780. Information regarding his civilian life or his family after the revolution is presently unavailable.
Sylvia R. Frey, Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999); Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961); The American Revolution, http://www.americanrevolution.com/SalemPoor.htm
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