From the time of the Law of 1660 Blacks did not train in the Connecticut and town militias. They did, however, fight in the Revolutionary War. A few free Connecticut Blacks fought in the Lexington, Concord and Boston campaigns of 1775, but they were excluded once the colonies began to organize their military forces more formally in 1776. Both prejudice against an integrated army and fear of slave insurrection led to their exclusion.
What changed the situation was military necessity. To win the war, the Continental Congress needed a standing army and it imposed quotas on the thirteen colonies to raise that army. By 1777 Blacks, both free and slave, were joining the Continental Army.
Service in the army was often a way for Blacks to achieve freedom. Some slaves were freed by patriotic masters to serve. Some slaves served in place of their masters, with freedom as their reward at the end of their enlistment. Some slaves used their enlistment bounty to buy their freedom. Some slaves served with no promise of freedom, but accompanied their masters out of loyalty or for adventure. Adventure and the bounty moved many free Blacks as well as Whites to serve. Whites preferred militia units, however, because they could stay closer to home. Few Blacks were encouraged to join local militias.
Blacks served in integrated units as combat soldiers and sailors. They were not relegated to the largely service roles they filled in later American armies. In fact, except when soldiers had such surnames as Africa or Negro, there is no way to tell Black from White soldiers on Continental muster rolls.
Some Black Americans served in the British Army, but very few were Connecticut Blacks. The British offered freedom to Black slaves who would join their army, but no major British units were stationed in Connecticut. Blacks from Connecticut had to run away to New York to reach the British.
In this section I have used five fictionalized biographical sketches to show students the different conditions under which Black men fought in the Revolution. Each sketch is about a Black man who served honorably in the war. I have used real names and real conditions of enlistment, but the details are fiction.
: Caesar Stewart was one of the few Connecticut Blacks who fought with the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, but he was not allowed to reenlist once the militia reformed in 1776. In 1777 he joined the Continental Army, in which he served until his death in battle in 1778. A free man, Stewart joined for adventure, to protect his home and for the bounty.
: A slave, Gad Asher was allowed by his master to enlist in 1777. Asher’s master freed him in 1780 in gratitude for his service in the army. The master’s motives were not wholly generous or patriotic, since Asher served in his master’s place.
: Arabas’ case was a famous one in Connecticut. He served for six years in the Continental Army and was awarded several citations for bravery. His master reclaimed him as a slave after the war. Arabas sued for his freedom and won. There was considerable public support for Arabas due to his war service.
: Yawpon was enlisted by his master and served beside him for three years. He was never promised freedom and saw military service as one more duty assigned to him by his master. He died a slave.
: Cromwell belonged to a Tory who left Connecticut for Long Island in 1776. On Long Island his master enlisted Cromwell in the British Army. Very few Connecticut Blacks fought for the British Army and it was to Cromwell’s credit that he deserted to the Continentals as soon as he was able.