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Related to the Black Soldiers plaque dedication May 27, 2005

African-Americans and the Old Barracks
By Richard Patterson

African-Americans were involved in virtually every aspect of the 18th Century history of the Trenton Barracks. As with most of the working classes of the time, there is much less known about them, specifically, than there is of the shop owners, the wealthy, the officers, etc. who left behind the majority of the written and physical records. We do, however, know enough specifics to suggest the breadth of their involvement.

Below are various notes and interesting facts:

Certainly, New Jersey had a sizeable slave population for a Northern colony. Trenton, in particular, was home to many African Americans, and, due to the large number of Quakers in and about the town, many of them were freemen. We find the phenomenon of slaves and freemen working and living in close proximity in the various early industrial sites around town (pottery, tannery, steel furnace and plating mill, grist mill, etc.)

The account books of the civilian "barrack masters", who operated the barracks for the army on behalf of the colony, note on July 27, 1758, that “Yard’s Negro” be paid 8 shillings for nails, presumably for the roof, another (possibly a freeman) named Negro Jack, produced 12 brooms required for each of the rooms in Jan. of 1759, and was paid, in cash, 4 shillings, 3 pence.

Some, undoubtedly, were present as officer's servants.

There were more than a few who were soldiers themselves; some doing service in place of the master; some of those winning their freedom by doing so. By 1778, fully 8% of the Continental Army's Main Department (those with Washington himself) was of African descent. This would probably be reflective of their presence at the Battle of Monmouth.

We know that many were encouraged by the British to run away from their enslavement, some of whom were recruited directly into the British ranks. We know that, later in the war, at least 115 served in varying capacities with the Hessians, 36 actually going back to Germany when those regiments returned in 1783.

The regiment of men from the seaports of Gloucester and Marblehead, Massachusetts, the 14th Continentals, under Col. John Glover had numerous free men of color in it's ranks. The sea trades were one of the few where black freemen could find a certain amount of acceptance. It was this regiment that ferried Washington's Army across the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776, then were one of the leading regiments of Sullivan's Division which swept past the Barracks to trap the Knyphausen Regt. from escaping South across the Assunpink. That's why one appears on one of the oars just in front of Washington in the famous painting by Emmanuel Leutze. The names of at least two of them are known, Joe Brown and Romeo. Joe Brown would eventually operate a tavern in Marblehead, which still stands, and his grave site is known and is not far from that of Glover himself.

Another regiment, that of Paul Dudley Sergeant of Connecticut, also marched and fought in Sullivan’s Division that day. In it was a soldier born and raised in Amwell, New Jersey, Jacob Francis. He was apparently of mixed parentage, his mother listed as “negro”, his father could have been white, mulatto, Indian, it is unknown. He was not a slave but seemed to have been indentured until he was 21. After serving five masters, he ended his indenture in Salem, Mass., where he enlisted in Sargent’s Regiment in 1775, and would serve 14 months with them. When he mustered out at the end of that enlistment in early 1776, he returned to Amwell and continued to serve throughout the rest of the War with the Capt. Snook’s Company, 1st Regiment of Hunterdon County Militia, and was present with them at Brandywine and Monmouth.

Oliver Cromwell, born in Black Horse, Burlington County in 1753, apparently a freeman (listed in some records as “Indian”, possibly of mixed parentage) joined the 2nd New Jersey 1776, claims to have crossed the Delaware and was at Battle of Trenton (although the 2nd New Jersey was at Morristown at the time). His pension deposition claims he was present at the Second Battle of Trenton, Princeton, the Battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Monmouth, Connecticut Farms, Springfield, and Yorktown, mustering out in May 1783. He had 14 children who lived to adulthood, and died in 1853, exactly 4 months short of his 100th birthday.

When doing archeology in the basement of the Barracks in 1995 when it was found that there were 18th Century garbage pits in the basement floor, an earthenware shard was found that was identified as an example of "colonno-ware". Colonno-ware were earthenwares copied from memory from African forms by African American slaves. This small shard is the only one found that was not associated with a Southern plantation. Monticello supposedly has a collection of such forms and we are endeavoring to get photos of some of them. Ours is in collection storage awaiting the photos so we can put it on display.


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