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The Only One - Henry Hill

(Trigger warning, the term “negro” as it originated from the Spanish term for black, is used in one or more direct quotations in this posting.)

Before writing this article for Black History Month, I felt I needed to learn more about the subject as well as what is the most appropriate terminology; meaning the use of “black” versus “African American”. In my research, I read an article by S. Ali, a Somali-American, in which she stated: The most appropriate term to use is Black. Not because it is the correct term but because it speaks to the collective experience of people with darker skin without negating the individual or historical background. Not everyone identifies with the term African American, as Blacks can be from all over the world, not to mention that Africa is a continent, not a country.” [1] Bearing this in mind, I wanted to look into blacks in the American Revolution, specifically, Virginia and even Orange County

In their book “Forgotten Patriots” (2008) The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) noted that one of the challenges of gathering information about specific individuals is that many records were destroyed in Virginia (and Georgia). This was due in part to the ravages of the American Revolution and Civil wars and periods of civil unrest with riots and affiliated destruction. It was also due to how names were recorded. There were many free blacks in Virginia censuses. Those who were enslaved were usually recorded under the Slave Holder’s name; not their own. This same practice appears to have been normal for military record keeping.

By the outbreak of the revolution, Virginia, the Old Dominion, was the largest and most extensively populated of the former colonies. The 500,000 residents were diverse and representative of numerous countries in varying numbers. Enslaved and “Free Persons of Color”, Native Americans, and white people populated the region. It was estimated that 1.7% of the population were free blacks and 39.1% were enslaved. How did these percentages impact the war against King George?

For Virginia, the revolution began in Williamsburg in the early morning of April 21, 1775. The Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore (image below), ordered the removal of gunpowder from the public magazine. Actual conflict was avoided for a short period but the goal of independence from British rule had gone from ideology to a strong desire.

Before a single shot was fired, the role of minorities in Virginia was already in play by both Royalist and Colonial leaders. Lord Dunmore had a decree published in the “Virginia Gazette” on November 10, 1775 that was intended to intimidate his opponents that read: “And I do hereby further declare any indentured Servants, Negroes or others free, that are able and willing to bear Arms, they join his Majesty’s Troops”. In short, fight for his Majesty and you will be freed from servitude. By removing indentured/ enslaved labor with the promise of freedom he could cripple the fledgling economy. Records indicate that 800 were quick to join Royal troops, but the majority of those peoples chose to remain in servitude. This was surprising to me and the only explanations I could rationalize were that (1) they didn't want to leave their families behind; (2) they were prevented from acting, and (3) they perhaps preferred the known to the risks and insecurity of the unknown.

One of the problematic issues in 1775 was the challenge of various former colonies where they were against have armed freed or enslaved blacks serving in the militias and/or newly formed army. This was not a new issue in any of the rebelling colonies/states, some more restrictive and harsher than others. Specifically looking at Virginia, in 1639 the House of Burgesses declared that only white Virginians could arm themselves. Prior to 1639, there was no exclusion of free blacks and/or "slaves" carrying arms or serving in the Virginia militia. The Virginia Slave Code (1705) definitively denied the enslaved the right to serve in the army/militias and denied free blacks equal status with whites in military service. The Codes of 1723 and 1748 permitted free blacks to serve as trumpeters or drummers, unarmed positions, in the military. Ironically, in 1676 (Bacon’s Rebellion) Royal Governor Berkley and the rebelling Virginians both promised the enslaved freedom in exchange for their military service; similar to what would happen a century into the future.

Lest one believes that it was only Southern colonies/states racism prevailed, not long after the creation of the New England Army of Observation (precursor of the Continental Army), attempts were made to restrict or bar black Americans from serving as soldiers. In May 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial legislature resolved, “that no slaves be admitted into this army upon any consideration whatever.” [2]

Washington himself had been pressured by leaders of other former colonies to bar blacks from serving in the newly formed armies. ”After much discussion, on November 12, General Washington directed, “Neither Negroes, Boys unable to bare Arms, nor old men unfit to endure the fatigues of the campaign, are to be inlisted.”[3]

Despite the issue of race, the Continental Army and most militias were integrated with enlisted white, black, and Native Americans serving side by side. While there is evidence of black soldiers in military ranks during the War of 1812, the American Revolution was the last occurrence of wide-spread military integration until Executive Order 9981, July 1948, signed by President Harry S. Truman.

The American Revolutionary War was officially fought from April 19, 1775 until September 3, 1783. However, the cauldron of unrest and even violence predated the official onset of the war. One of the most well known events was the death of Crispus Attucks, a black/Native American soldier and member of the Sons of Liberty and the first person killed in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770.

There were also a couple of pre-eminent black Virginians on record. William (Billy) Lee (1750-1810) (pictured right of Washington), a mulatto slave

bought by George Washington from a wealthy widow, Mary Lee, for £61.15S. Washington also purchased Billy’s younger brother Frank, also a mulatto. Billy served as Washington’s personal attendant and Frank served as waiter, then butler, of the household. By Washington’s side for over 20 years, Billy served with him throughout the war and returned to Mount Vernon where he lived the rest of his life. He is pictured in John Trumbull’s “George Washington, 1780.” Billy was the only slaved freed immediately in Washington’s will and was also gifted $30 a year. (Mount Vernon Archives)

Virginian Andrew Peebles, born in 1744, was a free mulatto. He “served numerous tours in varied units from Virginia. One time infantry, one time artillery, by the time he arrives at Guilford Courthouse he was a light infantryman in Light Horse Harry Lee’s Legion. He is eventually wounded three times in September 1781 at the battle of Eutaw Springs. He survived the war, received a Federal pension, and after his death, the state of Virginia awarded a land bounty to his heirs for his service.”[4] I could find no image of Peebles.

According to the NSDAR there were 5,000 black and Native Americans who were fought or involved in some way with that war. That was in 2008 when they published the aforementioned book, an alphabetical list of names by former colony, by county. Perhaps more names have been added to the records since their book was published. There was only one name listed for Orange, Virginia - Henry Hill.

Henry Hill (c. 1753-9/12/1833) Henry Hill was born a few years before William Lee (c. 1756) and was a patriot in the Continental Army commanded by George Washington. We know from his pension application (S41639) that he enlisted in 1777/1778 for one year from the Courthouse in Orange. (His full pension application is included below.( S41639 Henry Hill ( )

Pension Application of Henry Hill S41639 VA Transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. Revised 29 Oct 2019. State of Ohio Franklin county SS. On this 10 th day of May 1818 before me the Subscriber Associate Judge of the Court of Common pleas for the County of Franklin in the State of Ohio, personally appeared Henry Hill aged sixty seven years resident in said Franklin County, who being by me first duly sworn according to law, doth, on his oath make the following declaration, in order to obtain the provision made by the late act of Congress entitled, “An act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the Revolutionary war” That in or about the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy seven or seventy eight he enlisted for one year into a Company commanded by one Captain Spencer in a Regiment commanded by Colonel Heath [William Heth BLWt1064-500], in the Virginia line of Continental troops, then on Continental establishment – the No of said Company this deponent has forgotten, but he thinks the Regiment was the 7th Virginia Regiment. this deponent enlisted as before said at the Courthouse in Orange County in Virginia. This deponent was discharged at the expiration of the year aforesaid, but said discharge he has lost. After having served as a faithful soldier in the Company aforesaid for the year aforesaid, he enlisted some time in the year of our Lord 1780 into a company commanded by one Captain Craig in a Regiment commanded by Colonel Campbell [probably Richard Campbell BLWt347-450] for eighteen months, in the Virginia line of Continental establishment. This deponent served as a good and faithful soldier in the Company and Regiment last aforesaid, for the term of eighteen Months aforesaid and was then honourably discharged from the service, as appears from said discharge, herewith enclosed. This deponent was in the battles of Monmouth [28 Jun 1778], Guilford Courthouse [15 Mar 1781], Ninetysix [Siege of Ninety Six SC, 22 May - 19 Jun 1781], Chamblee [possibly Battle of Hobkirk Hill near Camden SC, 25 Apr 1781], Eutaw Springs [8 Sep 1781], and some of less note. This deponent knows of no other evidence at present within his power to prove his services aforesaid. This deponent has never received any pension from the United States, and is now in reduced circumstances and needs the assistance of his Country for support Henry hisXmark Hill The Bearer hereof Henry Hill soldier of the 2nd Virginia detachm’t. Capt. Stribling’s [Sigismond Stribling BLWt2066-300] company having served Eighteen Months being the term for which he was engaged is hereby discharged from said detail in which we certify he hath behaved as a brave and faithfull soldier. Given at Salisbury [NC] the 18 day Janry 1782 S. Stribling Capt S. Snead Maj’r Com’t. [Smith Snead BLWt2056-400]

In January 1782, Hill was discharged. It is likely, though not proven, that he used his military warrant to purchase his wife's freedom from her owners. This is supported by the fact that five of his children migrated with him from Virginia to Ohio. Had their mother not been free, the children would have been legally enslaved through the status of their mother. If there were children from an earlier wife, they would have remained enslaved. As with other free blacks, Hill was not a citizen of the newly formed nation. To remain free in Ohio and the state of his birth (Virginia) Hill was required to seek and obtain special permission by the State Legislature - annually.

To date I have been unable to locate an image of Henry Hill, which is not unusual for enslaved, indentured, and impoverished people of that time -even will past the American Civil War.

(photo from "Find A Grave"

[4] National Park Service, Guilford Courthouse.


American Battlefield Trust, “10 Facts: Black Patriots in the American Revolution”. Accessed 1/19/22.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, “William (Billie) Lee” digital history. Accessed 1/29/22. William (Billy) Lee · George Washington's Mount Vernon

Historic Jamestown, “Jamestown Rediscovery, Bacon’s Rebellion”. Accessed 1/29/2022.

National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, “Forgotten Patriots, African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War”, Chapter 11, PP.483-535. (2008) Washington, D.C.

National Park Service, “Crispus Attucks”. Accessed 1/22/22. Crispus Attucks (U.S. National Park Service) (

National Park Service, “Guilford Courthouse”, “African Americans at the Battle of Guilford Courhouse”. (Accessed 1/29/2002). African Americans Guilford Courthouse - Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (U.S. National Park Service) (


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