For the purposes of this project, Patriots are divided into two groups: verified and unverified. Verified Patriots are those for whom service and complexion were established with confidence based on an original record or a transcription of an original record. Unverified Patriots are those for whom either service or complexion could not be established with confidence from an original record or a transcription of an original record. Names may be unverified for a number of reasons, including differing complexion identifications by different researchers or confusion between Patriots with the same names (one of color, the other white) in published works.
This project recognizes anyone who aided the cause for American Independence at any time during the Revolutionary War. This included any military duty, and also services such as aid to the military, slaves confiscated from Loyalists for sale or working in the lead mines, ship yard carpenters and laborers, wagoners, servants and waiters, scouts and guides, etc. In addition, the Patriots of Color project recognizes soldiers listed on muster or pay rolls as deserted, and those who appear in runaway advertisements.
The Patriots of Color database includes anyone who is identified as non-white. Generally, descriptions refer to complexion (black, mulatto, colored, etc.), or to life situations (the description of an individual as a slave). Occasionally, ethnic descriptions such as Indian, Negro, East Indian, African, etc. appear in the records. Complexion descriptions were recorded most often by someone without a personal connection to the Patriot, and are simply an impression of outward appearance. Thus, one man may be described differently across several records. The Patriots of Color database records all descriptions found for each Patriot.
Many soldiers enlisted or were drafted multiple times. A soldier was sometimes transferred to a new company or regiment or their company or regiment was consolidated with another or renamed. Troop strength and placement was a constant issue and drove the reorganizations of the state and Continental troops throughout the war. In order to follow one person's service, or to confirm that a name found in two units refers to the same person, it is necessary to understand the organization of the military units and the progression of changes within them.
The land-based troops were divided into three forces: the Continental Army (the federal troops), the State Lines, and the local Militia. The Continental Army and each State Line were reorganized at various times during the course of the War. In order to follow a Patriot through years of service, or to distinguish among Patriots with the same name, it is necessary to understand these reorganizations. The reorganizations can be understood from a few reference materials found in the Resource section of this web site, and sometimes from studying the muster and payrolls themselves.
The troops at sea were mainly: the Continental Navy, the State Navies, and the Privateers. The Resources section of this web site contains references for materials regarding the composition and organization of the naval forces.
Many different types of records were accessed in the quest for verification of service and complexion or ethnicity. Every effort was made to access an image of an original document, or, when unavailable, a transcription of one. The digital images of National Archives (NARA) records placed online by Fold3.com (formerly Footnote.com) are particularly important to this project. They are the Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900 (NARA microfilm series M804), the Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War (NARA M881), and the Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 (NARA M246).
Publications such as Paul Heinegg's works on the free people of color in the colonial period of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware1 and the Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors2 volumes provided clues to the identities of Patriots as well as references to sources for pursuing original records for verification of service and complexion.
The National Archives records available online at Fold3.com (formerly Footnote.com) and state archive and library web sites provide access to images of the original records used in this project. Transcriptions of original muster and pay rolls can be found in various publications, usually arranged by state, or in periodicals. Of course, only a small portion of the available original records are imaged online. Many resources are only available by visiting the repository in person.
This field contains variant spellings of first and last names, and also alias names. Many soldiers served their military service under one name and used a different name after their service ended. This field may also contain a short description of the Patriot if the first and last names are unknown.
This field contains the name of the colony for which the Patriot served. Sometimes this field lists the name of more than one colony. For instance, Henry Dorton/Dalton was drafted into service for Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.
Here are listed the various military services, as well as nonmilitary service. Men and women aided American independence in more ways than serving in the military. They also supplied goods, served as scouts and guides, were paid for carpentry and blacksmithing, worked in the lead mines and iron forges, and were servants, waiters, cooks, etc. The drop down box in the search box for the Service Type field shows all the different service descriptions currently found in the database.
Physical descriptions usually refer to complexion and sometimes life situations, not ethnicity. Examples of complexion descriptions are black, mulatto, colored, or yellow, and a life situation example would be someone referred to as a slave. Occasionally, ethnic descriptions such as Indian, Negro, East Indian, African, etc. appear in the records. The drop down menu in the search box for the Complexion field shows all the different complexion descriptions currently found in the database.
If a federal pension application file exists for the Patriot, the database provides the federal pension number from the National Archives microfilm publication M804. The pension application file can be viewed at the National Archives Washington, DC or accessed online at Fold3.com (formerly Footnote.com).
This field contains the state in which the federal pensioner resided when affidavits were provided in county court. Two states are listed when the pensioner or his widow changed residence between correspondences with the government pension office.
This field contains information if the Patriot applied for a state pension. Since this project rarely had access to a state pension application file, this field contains the word "maybe" when the pensioner could not be verified as the Patriot of interest.
Bounty land was an incentive offered for service at various times in some colonies and at varying times. After war, each state administered the issuance of bounty land independently and offered various amounts of land dependent upon length of service and rank. Bockstruck offers an excellent explanation of the regulations for each state.3 Since the Patriots of Color project rarely had access to a state bounty land application file, this field contains the word "maybe" when the bounty land recipient could not be verified as the Patriot of interest.
This field contains information if the Patriot applied for federal bounty land. Two fires in Washington, DC, in 1800 and during the War of 1812, destroyed most of the bounty land application files. In many cases, the only remaining evidence of application is index cards imaged from National Archives microfilm publication M804 which can be viewed on Fold3.com (formerly Footnote.com), and the M804 microfilm reels at the National Archives, Washington, DC.
A verified Patriot is one for whom service and complexion were established with confidence based on an original record or a transcription of an original record. An unverified Patriot is one for whom either service or complexion could not be established with confidence from an original record or a transcription of an original record. Names may be unverified for a number of reasons, including differing complexion identifications by different researchers or confusion between Patriots with the same names (one of color, the other white) in published works.
1 Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware From the Colonial Period to 1810 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2000). Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina From the Colonial Period to about 1820. 5th edition, 2 volumes, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2005). Both of these publications are available in their entirety and updated on Mr. Heinegg's web site: http://www.freeafricanamericans.com
2 Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, 17 volumes (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., State Printers, 1896 to 1908). These volumes have been digitized and made available at Archive.org. An easy portal into these volumes at Archive.org is found at: http://www.mass.gov/anf/research-and-tech/gov-data-and-docs/state-docs-and-resources/state-docs-online/massachusetts-soldiers-and-sailors-of-the.html
3 Lloyd D. Bockstruck, Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2005), p. v-xxvi.