Saturday, February 12, 2011

African-American Narratives in Pension Files

In honor of Black History Month, the remaining entries for February will focus on the Library's records touching on African-American experiences during the Revolutionary Era of 1750-1800. Amongst our most important microfilm holdings are the Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty land warrant application files, part of Record Group 15 at the US National Archives and Records Service. Our microfilm copies are filed as Film 27, and contain some applications from African-American patriots. Two in particular stand out.

Jehu Grant was an African-American slave from Rhode Island, who ran away from his Tory master and joined the Continental Army in August 1777. While enlisting as a soldier, Grant was actually employed as a teamster, driving the army's supply wagons, while also serving as a servant to Wagon master General John Skidmore. Unfortunately for Grant, his master eventually appeared and reclaimed the slave after having served nine or ten months in the army. Grant applied for a pension in 1832, but was denied because,as he noted in his 1836 appeal letter, "services while a fugitive from my master's service was not embraced in said Act." Grant's appeal letter stands out as an eloquent defense of his service and fills in the remaining details of his life, including how Grant eventually achieved his freedom. These documents can be seen on Reel 1108 of our collection.

Our second example is Jacob Francis, who was born into slavery in Hunterdon County, New Jersey (across the Delaware River from the modern location of the Library). Francis earned his freedom by January 1775 and enlisted in the Continental Army at Salem, Massachusetts, in October of the same year. His narrative includes details of his service during the siege of Boston, the 1776 New York Campaign, and, as a militiaman, in the Monmouth Campaign. His account can be found on Reel 1015 of our collection.

William P. Tatum III

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