Book Review: “They Were Good Soldiers”: African-Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775-1783


by John U. Rees

Warwick, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate 2019. Pp. 206 . Illus., tables, appends., notes, biblio. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 1911628542

Black Patriots in Arms

Long deliberately neglected, the role of the 5,000 or so Black Americans who served in the ranks during in the Revolutionary War has been receiving increasing attention in recent years. In writing this book Rees, author of numerous works on the common soldier during the War for Independence, drew upon official documents, particularly pension applications, letters, memoirs, diaries, newspapers, speeches, and even advertisements.

Rees opens, interestingly, with a chapter on the British Army’s efforts to recruit African Americans, mostly by enticing slaves to flee, which proved only marginally successful. There follows a chapter summarizing the service of African Americans in the Continental Army and to some degree the militia; an analysis of the 1778 “Return of Negroes in the Army”, shows that more than three percent of the troops were Black, mostly serving integrated with whites. He then looks at Black soldiers’ personal accounts of their service, a literature that is unfortunately thin, but very interesting. Rees follows with a chapter on the African-American troops of each of the colonies, including some personal accounts or profiles of individual soldiers. He concludes with a chapter on the life of Black Patriot soldiers and another on their experiences post-war, drawing heavily on pension records, while stressing that many veterans were returned to slavery. Several appendices look at special topics, including Black women who accompanied the army.

“They Were Good Soldiers” is an important read not only for those studying African-American military service, but for anyone interested in the life of the common soldier during the Revolution.


Note: “They Were Good Soldiers” is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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