"I am sorry that the raising of the black Corps, hung in suspense when you last wrote; but hope, if your assembly then about to sit adopted the measure, it is now in a degree of forwardness and may be useful to the public cause..."
While the Civil War is known for its regiments of African-American volunteers in Federal service, similar attempts were made during the Revolution. One of the lesser known, but perhaps most important as a precursor for what would come later, was Col John Laurens' attempt to raise a regiment of slaves for service in the defense of South Carolina. The son of Henry Laurens, the famous South Carolina politician and president of the Second Continental Congress, John Laurens first argued that African slaves should be armed and outfitted for the defense of South Carolina after the British seized Savannah, Georgia, in December 1778. From this base, Royal troops could easily mount expeditions against Charleston, one of the most vital American ports. In 1779, a small force of British regulars penetrated the South Carolinian defenses and almost made it to Charleston before being forced to turn back. In the face of this threat, the South Carolina legislature seriously considered the measure of arming slaves, but never adopted it. Laurens continued to revise and update his plans while campaigning for an African-American regiment until his death in battle later in 1782. For the full text of this letter, the original of which is part of the Sol Feinstone Collection, please read below. For more information on African-American troops in the Southern theatre, please see Three Peoples, One King by Jim Piecuch. Our thanks go to Library intern David Niescior for transcribing this letter.
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