emancipated in order that they might lawfully serve in the patriot forces; and the tendency to recruiting negroes was so strong that Gen. Gates
was constrained to issue1
the following stringent instructions to the patriot recruiting-officers:
You are not to enlist any deserter from the Ministerial army; nor any stroller, negro, or vagabond, or person suspected of being an enemy to the liberty of America; nor any under eighteen years of age.
As the cause is the best that can engage men of courage and principle to take up arms, so it is expected that none but such will be accepted by the recruiting-officer.
The pay, provisions, etc., being so ample, it is not doubted but that the officers sent upon this service will, without delay, complete their respective corps, and march the men forthwith to camp.
You are not to enlist any person who is not an American born, unless such person has a wife and family, and is a settled resident in this country.
The persons you enlist must be provided with good and complete arms.
In the Continental Congress, Mr. Edward Rutledge
, of S. C.
that all negroes be dismissed from the patriot armies, and was supported therein by several Southern delegates; but the opposition was so formidable and so determined that the motion did not prevail.3
Negroes, instead of being expelled from the service, continued to be received, often as substitutes for ex-masters or their sons; and, in Virginia
especially, it gradually became a custom among the superior race to respond to an imperative summons to the field by giving an athletic slave his freedom on condition of his taking the place in the ranks assigned to his master.
It is stated that, after the close of the war, quite a number who had thus earned their freedom were constrained to sue for it; and that the Courts
of the “Old Dominion” --which had not yet discovered that a slave has no will, and so can make no legal and binding contract — uniformly sustained the action, and gave judgment that compelled the master to act as if he had been honest.
The Legislature felt constrained, in 1783, to provide by law4
that every slave who had enlisted upon the strength of such a promise should be set free accordingly; to which end, the Attorney-General
was required to commence an action in favor of every such patriot soldier thereafter unjustly restrained of his liberty, who should be entitled, upon due proof of his averment, not only to his freedom, but to damages for past injury in withholding and denying it.
authorized the enlistment of slaves — though not ostensibly as soldiers — by a vote6
of her Provincial Congress, as follows:
Resolved, That the Colonels of the several regiments of militia throughout the colony have leave to enroll such a number of able male slaves, to be employed as pioneers and laborers, as public exigencies require; and