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The American Revolutionary War, also known as the War Of Independence, began on this day. The first battles of Lexington and Concord took place between Americans and the British, and essentially jump started the great war. As poet Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said in his “Concord Hymn” piece, the battle inspired the line “shot heard ’round the world.” What Emerson did not note in his poem, however, was that this was when Black and Native American soldiers first joined in the fight, bolstering a militia in a war that would rage on for eight years.

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Among the Black “Minutemen” or militia members, former indentured servant Lemuel Haynes stands out prominently. Abandoned by a White Mother and African Father, Haynes would work on a Massachusetts farm until he was able to earn his freedom from servitude. At the age of 21, Haynes would volunteer to become a Minuteman in Massachusetts before joining a full military unit in Connecticut.

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Shortly after the conclusion of the Lexington and Concord clashes, Haynes marched with his troops to Roxbury. After the Northern Campaign of the War, Haynes then returned to Massachusetts to work on the farm. His life’s work didn’t end on the battle field, though, he taught himself how to read and write, eventually entering into ministry. Haynes was staunchly against slavery and believed in a harmonious integration of races. Haynes also has the distinction of becoming not only the first Black pastor of a White church, but he was also the first Black man to ever receive an advanced degree (although it was honorary) from Middlebury College.

Haynes was one of 5,000 African soldiers, both slaves and freed men among them, who fought in the Revolutionary War. His legacy remained intact by way of his many essays, some regarding freedom for Africans, and sermons that have been published. America has been slow to recognize Black soldiers of the Revolution, although some strides have been taken to publicize them. Today, African Americans in the military are low in number, making up just 13 percent of the force in the most-recent data. Still, the contribution of Black soldiers over the years has been nothing short of significant, and the Minutemen of color show and prove how vital we were in the fight for freedom, then and now.

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