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Unsung Heroes of the Revolutionary War
Many of us learned about George Washington, Paul Revere, and even Betsy Ross. However, the history of the Revolutionary War is vast with heroes that may not have been covered in American History classes. Below, we've profiled ten men and women who deserve recognition for their accomplishments during the Revolutionary War.
Phillis Wheatley waged a war for freedom with her words. Captured as a child in West Africa, then taken to North America and enslaved, Wheatley had an unusual experience in bondage: Her owners educated her and supported her literary pursuits. In 1773, at around age 20, Wheatley became the first African American and third woman to publish a book of poetry in the young nation. Shortly after, her owners freed her. Her work, which reflected her close knowledge of the ancient classics as well as Biblical theology, carried strong messages against slavery and became a rallying cry for Abolitionists.
Many historians credit Crispus as the first man to die for the rebellion. He became a symbol of black American patriotism and sacrifice. Tensions mounted between the British and the Colonial sailors of Massachusetts ports, in March of 1770—coming to a head in an angry confrontation that became known as the Boston Massacre.
Witnesses say that Attucks, who was a runaway slave that worked as a sailor and rope maker played an active role in the defense of the colonial sailors against the British. Of the five colonists who died, he was said to be the first to fall. Attucks is also credited as being the first martyr to the American cause.
Catherine Moore Barry
Known as the “Heroine of the Battle of Cowpens”, Catherine (Kate) Barry volunteered as a scout for the American forces. Thanks to her familiarity with all of the trails and shortcuts surrounding her home in South Caroline, Kate was able to easily warn, deliver messages to, and round up the militia as the British approached. Her ability to notify her husband, Captain Andrew Barry and offer support to General Daniel Morgan, th Battle of Cowpens is known as a decisive victory by the continental army in the Southern campaign of the Revolutionary War.
Known as the female Paul Revere because of her ride through Connecticut counties warning the militia of oncoming British soldiers, burning their way through Danbury. Daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington, commander of the Duchess County Militia, Sybil intercepted a dispatched messenger sent for her father. The messenger came to her home lost and exhausted, unfamiliar with the roads of her hometown. Sybil, sixteen at the time, traveled 40 miles from her home to ride out to where her father and his men were to alert them of the British actions in Danbury.
Salem Poor began life as a Massachusetts slave and ended it as an American hero. Born into bondage in the late 1740s, he purchased his own freedom two decades later for 27 pounds, the equivalent of a few thousand dollars today. Soon after, Poor joined the fight for independence.
Enlisting multiple times, he is believed to have fought in the battles of Saratoga and Monmouth. He’s most famous, however, for his heroism at the Battle of Bunker Hill—where his contributions so impressed fellow soldiers, that after the war ended, 14 of them formally recognized his excellent battle skills with a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts. In it, they called him out as a “brave and gallant soldier,” saying he “behaved like an experienced officer.” Poor is credited in that battle with killing British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie, along with several other enemy soldiers.
Esther DeBerdt Reed
British by birth, Esther met and married American Joseph Reed and moved to Philadelphia. Esther became disenfranchised with England as the war progressed, and in a show of patriotism towards the Revolutionary cause, established “Ladies of Philadelphia.” Her organization raised $300,000 for the troops through door to door solicitations. Esther delivered her funds to General Washington, suggesting it be provided as salary to the soldiers, but Washington felt it would better serve them through the purchase of clothing. Esther and the Ladies of Philadelphia bought cotton and linen sewing new shirts and pants for the American troops.
James Armistead, the Double Agent
During the Revolution, James Armistead’s life changed drastically—from an enslaved person in Virginia to a double agent passing intel, and misinformation, between the two warring sides. When Armistead joined the Patriots’ efforts, they assigned him to infiltrate the enemy. So he pretended to be a runaway slave wanting to serve the crown, and was welcomed by the British with open arms. At first, he was a strategic resource due to his vast knowledge of the local terrain. Armistead’s role got more interesting when the British directed him to spy on the Patriots. Since his loyalty remained with the colonists, he claimed to be bringing the British intel about the Continental Army, but he was actually pushing incorrect information to foil their plans. In the meantime, he was learning details of the British battle plans, which he brought back to his commander, General Marquis de Lafayette. Thanks to Armistead’s efforts, they gained enough information for the Siege of Yorktown, which is the battle that effectively ended the war. Years later, after securing his freedom, the former slave changed his surname to Lafayette.
Margaret Cochran Corbin
Margaret was part of the group of wives who followed their Militia husbands through the various battlefields as the war progressed. They were dubbed “Camp Followers,” doing whatever was needed in daily chores such as cooking, laundry, or helping tend to the sick and wounded.
The troops at Fort Washington were under attack, and Margaret’ husband John was assisting a gunner in defense of the fort, eventually perishing in the battle. Margaret, who was known as Captain Molly, took over the gunner position, firing it alone until she too was wounded in the battle. The wound severly injured her shoulder, chest, and mangled her jaw, injuries from which she never fully recovered, and lost use of her left arm for the rest of her life.
Salem joined the Patriots in the earliest battles of the war, participating as a “minute man” at Lexington and Concord. His owners supported this decision and freed him so that he could remain enlisted. Salem earned his place in history for his role in one the most important Revolutionary War fights, the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Many historians credit Salem with killing a key officer of the crown, Major John Pitcairn, just as he was scaling the top of the American redoubt and demanding that the Patriots surrender. Salem’s role is believed to have been memorialized in John Trumbull’s painting The battle of Bunker's Hill
The First Rhode Island Regiment, Integrated Revolutionary Force
The First Rhode Island Regiment, the first Continental Army unit largely comprised of New England Blacks, showcased African Americans’ skill as soldiers and commitment to their brethren on the battlefield.
Though relatively small—only about 130 men—the First Rhode Island Regiment had an outsized impact. They were praised for being fiercely loyal, protecting each other to the point of death, most notably forming a human shield around their leader, Colonel Christopher Greene, during an early morning attack in May of 1781.