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    First African-American troops in the Revolutionary War

    Revolutionary War: African-American Troop Payroll. One and one-third pages, 8" x 12.5", East Greenwich [Rhode Island], June 12, 1779. Signed by six officers and forty-one privates of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment (thirty-nine of the privates have signed with their own "X" mark). On the final of the four integral pages is written, "Receipt for Sass money / 1779 / 1779." Toned throughout with folds.

    In the top margin, the document reads, "We the Subscribers have Eace [sic] of us Recd. of Captn. Thomas Cole our Sass money in full for the Months of October November December Jany. Feby. and March as Witness our hands East Greenwich June 12th 1779." ("Sass money" refers to food. Regimental account books for the time often noted that soldiers had "Recd sass money.")

    Below are two main columns listing the names of each soldier and amounts in the British currency system received by each. The signed names are "Samuel West Sergt.," "Asa Lewis Sert," "Sam Cranston Segt," "Seth Fisher Sergt," and "David Johnson Lt." Most of the remaining names listed contain the soldier's "X" nearby. Of those listed, it is likely that seven were Indians (Fry, Coopen, Harry, Charles, Coys, Aaron, and Waggs), while at least thirteen were likely negro, mulatto, or other mixed race (Prince Watson, Varnum, Gould, Primus Watson, Reynolds, the two Frank brothers, Rhodes, Potter, Henley, Ceasor, Pharaoh Hazzard, and Anthony).

    Page two reads, "Camp East Greenwich October 2, 1779. Recd. of Captn. Thomas Cole Eleven pounds L[awful] m[oney] in full for all Sass money in my hand due to John Daniels - per me - [signed] E. Lewis Captn." Elijah Lewis was captain of the 2nd Company and Thomas Cole was captain of the 3rd Company in the First Rhode Island Regiment.

    The 1st Rhode Island was formed in May 1775. Later in early 1778, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed an act to enlist slaves (negro or Indian) of the state, with each receiving wages and freedom from their masters. By late 1778 after many slaves had enlisted, the regiment became the first nearly all-black regiment during the Revolution, with a few whites and Indians serving. Two years after this payroll document was issued, the regiment formed part of Major General Benjamin Lincoln's division at Yorktown.

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