Early in the 18th century a few New England ministers and conscientious Quakers, such as George Keith and John Woolman, had questioned the morality of slavery but they were largely ignored.
By the 1760s, however, as the colonists began to speak out against British tyranny, more Americans pointed out the obvious contradiction between advocating liberty and owning slaves.
Whenever they could, enslaved blacks continued to join him until he was defeated and forced to leave Virginia in 1776.
Dunmore’s innovative strategy met with disfavor in England, but to many blacks the British army came to represent liberation.
Many were active participants, some won their freedom and others were victims, but throughout the struggle blacks refused to be mere bystanders and gave their loyalty to the side that seemed to offer the best prospect for freedom.
By 1775 more than a half-million African Americans, most of them enslaved, were living in the 13 colonies.In 1774 Abigail Adams wrote, “it always appeared a most iniquitious scheme to me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.” Widespread talk of liberty gave thousands of slaves high expectations, and many were ready to fight for a democratic revolution that might offer them freedom.In 1775 at least 10 to 15 black soldiers, including some slaves, fought against the British at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill.James Lafayette, who supported the American cause as a spy, may have been the inspiration for the figure on the right in the 18th-century engraving, in the Jamestown-Yorktown collection, depicting the Marquis de Lafayette at Yorktown.Only 50 years after the defeat of the British at Yorktown, most Americans had already forgotten the extensive role black people had played on both sides during the War for Independence.African Americans also served as gunners, sailors on privateers and in the Continental Navy during the Revolution.While the majority of blacks who contributed to the struggle for independence performed routine jobs, a few, such as James Lafayette, gained renown serving as spies or orderlies for well-known military leaders.The Declaration of Independence promised liberty for all men but failed to put an end to slavery; and although they had proved themselves in battle, the Continental Congress adopted a policy of excluding black soldiers from the army.In spite of these discouragements, many free and enslaved African Americans in New England were willing to take up arms against the British.Black participation in the Revolution, however, was not limited to supporting the American cause, and either voluntarily or under duress thousands also fought for the British.Enslaved blacks made their own assessment of the conflict and supported the side that offered the best opportunity to escape bondage.