J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Two Looks at Rhode Island’s Continental Soldiers

On Wednesday, 29 August, the African Meeting House on Nantucket will host a talk by Louis Wilson on “Rhode Island’s Black Patriots in the Revolutionary War.” This is the Museum of African American History’s annual Frank and Bette Spriggs Lecture. Wilson is Professor of African and African American History at Smith College; he studies African-Americans in the Revolutionary War and free blacks in ante-bellum Rhode Island.

The museum’s event description says:
The American Revolution was a defining moment in the formation of what became the United States of America. The men and women who fought in that conflict have, for the most part, been memorialized. Unfortunately, this history gives little account of the many black soldiers who fought in the war. Through his research, Dr. Louis Wilson, has captured the names of over 800 men who served in Revolutionary War army units from Rhode Island. In his talk, Dr. Wilson will share the personal stories of these men who fought to liberate their country from tyranny while their own personal freedom was not guaranteed.
Prof. Wilson’s talk begins at 2:00 P.M., and is free and open to the public. The African Meeting House is at 29 York Street in Nantucket.

In related news, the Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the American Revolution has published Bruce C. MacGunnigle’s transcription of the Regimental Book, First Rhode Island Regiment for 1781 &c. That document preserves the names, origins, and physical descriptions of the men in the regiment in that year.

In 1778 the 1st Rhode Island enlisted a large number of men of African and Native American ancestry, including slaves—a controversial move. For a while more than half the regiment’s soldiers were men of color, and the racially segregated companies left people with the impression of a “Black Regiment.” By 1781, however, the 1st Rhode Island was recruiting white men and no longer separated its recruits by race. This book therefore lists an unusually varied set of Revolutionary American soldiers. Here’s a P.D.F. file of a brochure about the book and order form.

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