History: African Americans in British Army

History: African Americans in British Army

250 years ago a British army led by General Edward Braddock arrived in Alexandria in route, unknowingly, to a bloody defeat at the hands of the French and Indians. Following is one of a series of weekly articles on that army.

February 26, 1755, WILLIAMSBURG: General Braddock wrote today to Sir John St. Clair, Deputy Quartermaster General of his army, to discharge "All blacks and mulattoes except the young and strong." As for the African Americans who remained, Braddock later ordered some to be made batmen (servants for British officers) and be furnished with "pay and Frocks" by the colonies.

Before Braddock arrived Virginia enacted a law "to raise and levy such able bodied men as do not follow . . . any lawful Calling or Employment, or have not some other lawful and sufficient Support and Maintenance, to serve his Majesty as Soldiers in the present Expedition." Indentured "or bought" servants were exempted.

Some free African Americans were caught up in the levy, and some signed on voluntarily for the one guinea (a gold coin worth slightly more than an English pound) paid to newly enlisted recruits.

At least one, however, soon developed other plans. The Virginia Gazette for March 7, 1755, listed six deserters from the British army including a recruit from King William County: "William Holmes, a Mullatoe, about 45 Years of Age [and] about six Feet high." An award of "a Pistole" (a Spanish coin worth a little less than an English pound) was offered for his capture.

But other African Americans took their chances in the wilderness with the rest of Braddock’s army.

And Braddock now decided to recruit for his army a particular person who lived near Alexandria, someone who had been twice before to the same wilderness where Braddock was headed and had just turned 23 years old.

Ted Pulliam is a member of the Alexandria Archaeological Commission. He can be contacted at pulliams@starpower.net