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French sketch, yorktown-1781
On this date in 1775, the Continental Congress of the United States issued the order to bar Blacks from the army.
Many of the colonies had laws, ordinances, or resolutions excluding African Americans from the local militias. George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, issued the general order barring the recruitment of Blacks. The government enacted legislation in 1792 banning Blacks from duty in the state militias, which for all practical purposes eliminated them from service in the Army. The Marine Corps, from its beginning, was prohibited by an act of Congress in 1798 from enlisting Blacks.
No Blacks were enrolled in the Marines until August 1942, more than six months after the United States entered World War II. But during the Revolutionary War, the First Rhode Island Regiment in August of 1778, a nearly all-Black unit made up largely of recently freed slaves, exhibited courage in battle, central to that era’s events.
Commanders of that day commended the unit for "deeds of desperate valor," and the First Rhode Island was referred to frequently by abolitionists in the 19th century.
First Rhode Island has been largely forgotten in our own day. It is important to understand when considering the American Revolution that men fought not only for political liberty, but for personal liberty.
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