J. Sakai on the "War of Independence" (from Settlers)

The war was a disruption to Slave Amerika, a chaotic gap in the European capitalist ranks to be hit hard. Afrikans seized the time — not by the tens or hundreds, but by the many thousands. Amerika shook with the tremors of their movement. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were bitter about their personal losses: Thomas Jefferson lost many of his slaves; Virginia’s Governor Benjamin Harrison lost thirty of “my finest slaves”; William Lee lost sixty-five slaves, and said two of his neighbors “lost every slave they had in the world”; South Carolina’s Arthur Middleton lost fifty slaves.

Afrikans were writing their own “Declaration of Independence” by escaping. Many settler patriots tried to appeal to the British forces to exercise European solidarity and expel the Rebel slaves. George Washington had to denounce his own brother for bringing food to the British troops, in a vain effort to coax them into returning the Washington family slaves. Yes, the settler patriots were definitely upset to see some real freedom get loosed upon the land.

To this day no one really knows how many slaves freed themselves during the war. Georgia settlers were said to have lost over 10,000 slaves, while the number of Afrikan escaped prisoners in South Carolina and Virginia was thought to total well over 50,000. Many, in the disruption of war, passed themselves off as freemen and relocated in other territories, fled to British Florida and Canada, or took refuge in Maroon communities or with the Indian nations. It has been estimated that 100,000 Afrikan prisoners — some 20% of the slave population — freed themselves during the war.

The thousands of rebellious Afrikans sustained the British war machinery. After all, if the price of refuge from the slavemaster was helping the British throw down the settlers, it was not such a distasteful task. Lord Dunmore had an “Ethiopian Regiment” of ex-slaves (who went into battle with the motto “Liberty to Slaves” sewn on their jackets) who helped the British capture and burn Norfolk, Va. on New Year’s Day, 1776. That must have been sweet, indeed. Everywhere, Afrikans appeared with the British units as soldiers, porters, road-builders, guides, and intelligence agents. Washington declared that unless the slave escapes could be halted the British Army would inexorably grow “like a snowball in rolling.”

It was only under this threat — not only of defeat, but defeat in part by masses of armed ex-slaves — that the settlers hurriedly reversed their gears and started recruiting Afrikans into the Continental U.S. Army. The whole contradiction of arming slaves and asking them to defend their slavemasters was apparent to many. Fearing this disruption of the concentration camp culture of the plantations — and fearing even more the dangers of arming masses of Afrikans — many settlers preferred to lose to their British kith and kin rather than tamper with slavery. But that choice was no longer fully theirs to make, as the genie was part-way out of the bottle.

On Dec. 31, 1775, Gen. Washington ordered the enlistment of Afrikans into the Continental Army, with the promise of freedom at the end of the war. Many settlers sent their slaves into the army to take their place. One Hessian mercenary officer with the British said: “The Negro can take the field instead of the master; and therefore, no regiment is to be seen in which there are not Negroes in abundance…” Over 5,000 Afrikans served in the Patriot military, making up a large proportion of the most experienced troops (settlers usually served for only short enlistments — 90 days duty being the most common term — while slaves served until the war’s end or death).

For oppressed peoples the price of the war was paid in blood. Afrikan casualties were heavy (one-half of the Afrikans who served with the British in Virginia died in an epidemic). And the Indian nations allied to the Crown suffered greatly as the tide of battle turned against their side. The same was true of many Afrikans captured in British defeats. Some were sold to the West Indies and others were executed. A similar heavy fate fell on those recaptured while making their way to British lines. The settler mass community organizations, such as the infamous “Committees of Correspondence” in New York and Massachusetts, played the same role up North that the Slave Patrols played in the South, of checking and arresting rebellious Afrikans.

Even those who had allied with the victorious settlers did not necessarily find themselves winning anything. Many Afrikans were disarmed and put back into chains at the war’s end, despite solemn settler promises. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, may have presented Afrikan U.S. troops with a banner — which praised them as “The Bucks of America” — but that didn’t help Afrikans such as Captain Mark Starlin. He was the first Afrikan captain in the Amerikan naval forces, and had won many honors for his near-suicidal night raids on the British fleet (which is why the settlers let him and his all-Afrikan crew sail alone). But as soon as the war ended, his master simply reclaimed him. Starlin spent the rest of his life as a slave. He, ironically enough, is known to historians as an exceptionally dedicated “patriot,” super-loyal to the new settler nation.

What was primary for the Afrikan masses was a strategic relationship with the British Empire against settler Amerika. To use an Old European power against the Euro-Amerikan settlers — who were the nearest and most immediate enemy — was just common sense to many. 65,000 Afrikans joined the British forces — over ten for every one enlisted in the Continental U.S. ranks.  Lenin said in discussing the national question: “The masses vote with their feet.” And in this case they voted against Amerika.

Secondarily, on an individual level Afrikans served with various forces in return for release from slavery. There was no real “political unity” or larger allegiance involved, just a quid pro quo. On the European sides as well, obviously. If the British and Patriot sides could have pursued their conflict without freeing any slaves or disrupting the slave system, they each gladly would have done so. Just as the slave enlistments in Bacon’s Rebellion demonstrated only the temporary and tactical nature of alliances between oppressed and oppressor forces, so the alignment of forces in the settler War of Independence only proved that the national patriotic struggle of Euro-Amerikans was opposite to the basic interests and political desires of the oppressed.

Even in the ruins of British defeat, the soundness of this viewpoint was borne out in practice. While the jubilant Patriots watched the defeated British army evacuate New York City in 1783, some 4,000 Afrikans swarmed aboard the departing ships to escape Amerika. Another 4,000 Afrikans escaped with the British from Savannah, 6,000 from Charleston, and 5,000 escaped aboard British ships prior to the surrender. Did these brothers and sisters “lose” the war — compared to those still in chains on the plantations?

Others chose neither to leave nor submit. All during the war Indian and Afrikan guerrillas struck at the settlers. In one case, three hundred Afrikan ex-slaves fought an extended guerrilla campaign against the planters in both Georgia and South Carolina. Originally allied to the British forces, they continued their independent campaign long after the British defeat. They were not overcome until 1786, when their secret fort at Bear Creek was discovered and overwhelmed. This was but one front in the true democratic struggle against Amerika.

from Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat from Mayflower to Modern, by J. Sakai, pages 41-44