Saturday, February 11, 2017

Black History Month: The Story of Prince Freeman

Guest Blogger:  Emily Bigioni

Many people tend to forget that there were African-American soldiers who served in the American Revolution, many of whom applied for and received military pensions. In honor of Black History Month, we have the story of one of these soldiers and pensioners:

Prince Freeman's discharge document, 
signed by General Washington,
showing that he was honored
with the Badge of Merit.
On April 10, 1818, Prince Freeman, an African-American veteran of the Revolutionary War, applied for a pension in Windham County, Vermont. At that point, he was a farmer in Grafton, Vermont. He had first enlisted in May of 1777 as a private in Captain Bulkley's company, in the 3rd Connecticut Regiment, commanded by Samuel Blachley Webb. Freeman served until the end of the war, and was honorably discharged in 1783, on the 8th day of June. After the war, Freeman applied for a bounty land warrant, and moved to Vermont. However, his pension claims that in 1818 he was “destitute of property [and] advanced in years”—aged sixty-two; he further states that he had two young children dependent on him for support. Having been injured in the war, Freeman was unable to work, and so applied for a pension—and received it, being issued eight dollars per month under the decision of Judge Phineas White. Freeman, according to his discharge papers, was honored with the Badge of Merit (the precursor to the Purple Heart Medal) by General George Washington for his six years of service. The Badge of Merit was created by Washington for the purpose of honoring ordinary soldiers, alongside the Honorary Badges of Distinction. By creating this badge, Washington allowed for the recognition of regular soldiers, not solely officers. Not only a good deed, the Badge of Merit was an inexpensive way to honor soldiers after the Continental Congress ordered Washington to stop promoting soldiers in 1782. It is the oldest military decoration, but not the oldest award; Congress awarded the Fidelity Medallion—a civilian honor—to three privates who had captured the British spy John AndrĂ©, a co-conspirator of Benedict Arnold, in 1780.

The Badge of Merit
Works cited:
Johnston, Henry P., editor. The Record of Connecticut Men of the Military and Naval Service during the War of the Revolution 1755-1783. 1889. Genealogical Publishing, 1997.

Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty–Land–Warrant Application Files (RG 15) Pension for Prince Freeman S: 39549. National Archives and Record Administration

George Washington, "7 August 1782, General Orders." The Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office).

“Military Badges.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Hudgins, Bill. "The Origins of the Purple Heart." American Spirit, Nov.-Dec. 2014, pp. 36-40.

Emily Bigioni is a volunteer at the David Library and a sophomore at Princeton High School. She has been volunteering since July 2016, and currently works Saturday afternoons. Emily has a love of history, and enjoys reading and researching the Library’s primary source documents.