Friday, February 3, 2012

Patron's Perspective: In Search of Black Among the White

"I found a lot of useful information about my subject, Edward Hector, a black Revolutionary war soldier who fought in the Battle of Brandywine and Germantown for Col. Proctor’s Third Pennsylvania Artillery" 

This post marks the start of our Black History Month 2012 series, which will explore the challenges of researching the African-American contribution to the American Revolution. Patron Noah Lewis, a regular David Library patron and a seasoned historical interpreter, provides us with our first view on this tricky field of research. Noah's work has focused on the life and times of Ned Hector, an African-American who served with the Continental Artillery during the War. Noah has uncovered a significant amount of information on Ned, who operated in the capacity of a wagon driver during the war. For more on the story of researching African-Americans in the Library's collections, please read below. Our thanks go to Noah for his excellent contribution to this series.


In Search of Black Among the White

Last summer I had the opportunity to experience a perspective that I was previously the subject of. I remember hearing about this David Library from various sources. As I talked to numerous historical authors invariably they would tell me how they found this bit of information or that bit of information at the David Library. Then they would ask me if I had been able to visit the David Library yet.  I was asked this same question from not only authors, but from fellow reenactors as well. They would proceed to tell me what they discovered about their unit or person. These too would end in the question,” Have you had a chance to visit the David Library yet?” Finally, after feeling like I had been left out of something that everyone already knew, (nudge nudge, wink wink) I decided to visit this David Library I had heard so much about. Of course the fact that I had exhausted most of my resources fed an ever encroaching sense of desperation, which helped play a role in my paying a visit to the library as well.

What would this David Library have about black patriots? Not much, like most of them, I could imagine. I must confess, I was surprised by the volume and the range of resource materials they had. But what impressed me the most was how willing they were to go out of their way to help me. I had a sense that they believed they were like NASA’s mission control in which they sent out their patrons to explore the vast unknown of history.

And explore I did! I found a lot of useful information about my subject, Edward Hector, a black Revolutionary war soldier who fought in the Battle of Brandywine and Germantown for Col. Proctor’s Third Pennsylvania Artillery. This included information on Ned's officers, Col. Proctor, who had his horse shot from underneath him as well as the requisition for another horse, and Capt. Hercules Courtenay, who was court martialed for leaving the field of battle,” in an unofficer like way”; Ned's unit’s history, Proctor’s Third Pennsylvania Artillery which I discovered later became the Fourth Continental Artillery; muster, supply, and pension records for that unit; books researching the battles Ned was in and primary source material about those battles; Gen. Washington's orders pertaining to his black soldiers, including Washington's orders not to allow blacks to be enlisted; to name a few.

I mentioned how helpful the staff was to me. There were several times when the staff found information that was useful in my research. They found documents listing Teamster Edward Hector transporting ”pig metal” for Col. Potts in 1780. They also uncovered a document listing a “Negro Hector” owning a wagon and four horses.

In summary, when all this information is combined with other research, the picture of the African-American Continental soldier can be seen in several basic facts. About 3000 to 5000 people of color would fight for the American cause about 7000 to 10,000 would fight for the British. General George Washington would command the most integrated army until 1948 when Harry S. Truman would reintegrate the Army for Korea. Additionally, General Washington would have at least three majority black regiments under his command, from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The black sailors from Marblehead Massachusetts would help save Washington's army from annihilation when he was trapped at Brooklyn Heights in New York. The Marbleheaders would also help transport Washington's army across the Delaware River to attack a garrison of Hessians in Trenton. The Rhode Island Regiment would help to punch a hole in the defenses at Yorktown, which would make this victory possible. By the end of the war 10 to 25% of Washington's army would be people of color. Often, we tend to separate African-American history from American history, but the truth is African-American history is American history! This history belongs to everyone who calls themselves Americans. For without their contribution, as well as many others, we would not be free today.

Last year I found myself talking with a fellow African-American researcher who was writing about the First Rhode Island Regiment. Before the conversation was over, I had suggested to him that he might want to go to the David Library and examine the General Greene papers. Again, at the end of 2011, I was discussing Black American Colonial research with one of the main genealogist for the Daughter’s of the American Revolution and author of “Forgotten Patriots of the American Revolution“, when the David Library was brought up. She had heard of the David Library and confessed that she wanted to see what resources they had. However, living and working in Washington, DC, she had not been given the chance to do so. She expressed a wish to visit, plans were made, and a day was spent in the library.  The day ended successfully, as we left feeling pleased with the research we found. Upon her departure, plans for a return visit was made. On reflection, I thought of how I had been the object of the referral and now I was the referrer. Isn’t it funny how life works?  

Noah Lewis

Have something you want to share, such as a question, research find, or a personal story about the Library? Email Will Tatum at

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