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The Many Faces of 1775

Soldier resting by window of building
These soldiers were more ethnically diverse than generally pictured today.

The classic image of those citizen soldiers who stood up to the British redcoats on Lexington green or at the old French fort of is in a word, white. The reality of those colonial militia and regulars was far more diverse. As we explore the Connecticut colonial regulars who garrisoned Fort Ticonderoga in the summer of 1775 we find a diverse ethnic mix of soldiers surprisingly like our modern world.

Deserted from the 7th Regiment of the Connecticut Troops, commanded by Col. Charles Webb, and Capt. Hait’s Company, on Thursday Night last, a certain James Parsons, who said he was born at Amboy: He is about 25 Years old, 5 Feet 7 Inches high, and well made: Had on when he went away, a green short Coat with Brass Buttons, an old black Velvet Jacket and Breeches, pretty good Shoes, and white Stockings, with a white Linen Shirt: He is of a black Complexion, with black Beard, and Hair, is very talkative. Two Dollars Reward will be given, and all reasonable Charges paid on delivering the said Deserter to the commanding Officer at Horse-Neck, or by me, Joseph Hait, Captain.

This advertisement, placed in both New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, on the 25 of September 1775, hints at one of many African-Americans called up for service with the one man in four draft began at the end of April of that year. Likewise, another advertisement from previous month, potentially describes another African-American Connecticut regular deserting from the siege of Boston.

Deserted from the service of the Colony of Connecticut, on the morning of the 4th day of August instant, from Oxford, in the colony of Massachusetts-Bay, a Soldier named Thomas Cushing, belonging to the 10th company of the 8th Regiment, raised by the colony of Connecticut, for the defence of said colony and American Liberty, of more than middling stature; dark complexion, black Hair, considerably pittied with the Small Pox, wore a dark brown Coat, with black Cuffs and Cape, Deerskin breeches with a white Linnen Shirt and seemed Worsted Stockings. Whoever shall take up said Deserter and return him to the commanding Officer of the said Regiment, or to me the subscriber at the Camp near Boston, shall have Three Dollars Reward and necessary charges paid by John Ripley, Captain.

[Massachusetts Spy, 9 August 1775]

Soldier mending sail cloth
We are working towards recreating this diversity as well as talking about it with visitors.

However, not all the evidence is as explicit about the diverse nature of Connecticut soldiers. Muster rolls for companies of soldiers posted at Ticonderoga hint at the ethnic diversity of soldiers in 1775. In a sea of biblical names typical of white, congregational soldiers, the few classical Roman or Greek-styled names stand out. These classical names were fashionable for masters to name their slaves. Private, ‘Titus Allen’ of the ninth company of Colonel Hinman’s regiment may well have purchased his freedom. He might well have been born to a free back family; Titus may well have been a family name by 1775 retained from a background of slavery.

Perhaps Captain Edward Mott’s company shows the most interesting mix of ethnic backgrounds. Captain Mott, a prominent member of the Connecticut committee for the capture of Ticonderoga on May 10th, 1775, marched his company up to Ticonderoga away from the rest of Colonel Parson’s regiment. His company drew on heavily on Connecticut militia men between Norwich and New London in south-eastern Connecticut. In modern times large tracts of this area have been reclaimed as tribal lands by the Mohegan and Mashantucket-Pequot tribes. In 1775, these Native Americans were citizens of Connecticut, legally enrolled in their local town militia companies and drafted for seven months regular service like any other men. Both Jacob and Peter Quocheets served under Captain Mott, as did Benjamin Squabob, Joseph Sunsemon, Jacob and Isaac Tecomeas. These Native Americans in Mott’s company were joined by John Leathercoat and Noah Chinchi among other soldiers with likely Native Heritage. Sampson Obey, may well have been one of several free black soldiers serving side by side with white, and Native American soldiers in this company.

Captain Mott’s company was by no means an extreme example. The striking diversity in Connecticut, and New England soldiers at large, was notable even during the American Revolution itself Captain Persifor Frazier in 1776 would remark that the New England solders were, “the strangest mixture of Negroes, Indians, and Whites.” among his litany of complaints recorded during the Northern Army’s consolidation at Ticonderoga. Perhaps what is most notable about the diverse heritage of these Connecticut soldiers in 1775 is this lack of distinction noted among these soldiers. The diversity of these companies and regiments simply does not follow the later paradigms of segregated black regiments or ethnic units. These units integrated by virtue of existing before later military segregation do not easily fit into our picture of the past so often organized along racial lines. However, as we picture the sacrifice of these soldiers in our American revolution we should put a variety of faces on them.