Thursday, March 20, 2014

Honoring our Ancestors: Free Black Patriots of the Revolutionary War

When I was first contacted last October to assist in some research for a member of the DAR who was looking for the burial ground of her ancestor, Isaac Carter, I had no idea it would lead to such a wonderful tribute--with full honors--to our free black ancestors of Craven County, North Carolina.

Nor would I have guessed that I would be meeting together with Ms. Maria William Cole, National Vice Chairman Insignia, of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, and a host of other dignitaries, from the highest officials of the SAR to state and local political and community service leaders, to pay tribute to these patriots.

The turnout exceeded my expectation when this event proceeded on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, with close to a hundred and fifty people or more, seated on folding chairs under three canopy tents.

The microphone cable lay along the wet grass and soon died out, and we, the speakers, were asked to use our "mother's voices" to make our presentations heard. Usually I record and transcribe the speeches at events such as this, but I had to forego it on this occasion. So, it is from memory that I share with you today the events of this past Sunday afternoon.

Perhaps the most memorable of all the speakers for me was Marion T. Lane, Ed.D., Commander in Chief, Society of the Descendants of Washington's Army at Valley Forge, and descendant of free black patriot, Martin Black, Private, Second North Carolina Regiment. Educator and author, she illustrated her message with descriptive cues which left one imagining how the patriotic free men of color had enlisted for the duration of the war, unlike the average white patriot, who had enlisted for only an average of nine months.

She depicted five northern regiments of free black patriots, including sailors, cavalrymen, and foot soldiers...fighting on the Continental Line and in the states militias. And then there were the free blacks of North Carolina. Their regiments were not segregated. Whites and blacks fought side-by-side for the freedom of a Nation, and of an oppressed people.

My presentation followed immediately after Dr. Lane's.
I am honored to be here on behalf of my husband, Cedric Carter, who is a descendant of six of the fourteen free black patriots we honor here today. 
Isaac Carter, his 3rd great grandfather
Joshua Carter, his 3rd great grand uncle
John Carter, his 3rd great grand uncle
George Perkins, his 4th great grandfather
Isaac Perkins, his 3rd great grand uncle, and
William Dove, the father-in-law of Charity (Carter) Dove, his 1st cousin four times removed.  
When we speak to our cousins and friends here in North Harlowe about our free black ancestor who served their country so gallantly, their minds turn to the Civil War; but, the Carter family has a rich history! 
The Carters were not freed slaves who enlisted for service. No, they had been free since 1684! There have been several studies and books dedicated to the Carters and the Georges, and they have a rich history...a history of freedom...of land owners who worked together with their white neighbors to build this community of North Harlowe. 
And even before these patriots served, the Carters' father, Abel Carter, and their Uncle Isaac Carter, had served in the North Carolina State Militia as early as 1754 [French and Indian War]. 
When our children grew up and attended school in Massachusetts, they were taught about the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry...and they were taught about the freed slaves and contraband who joined the Union forces during the Civil War...but they were never taught about the free blacks of North Carolina who volunteered to fight in the War of Independence...the American Revolution.
I am honored to be here today, and urge you to tell your children of the free black patriots of Craven County who dedicated their lives to independence for all Americans, black and white.
As I spoke of the years of freedom our ancestor had enjoyed nearly two hundred years before the outbreak of the Civil War, I could see the smiles of pride among family, and the nods of agreement among researchers, historians and dignitaries.

Following the Retirement of the Colors, several members of the SAR approached me with hand shakes and warm regards of thanks for my participation.
"Without you," said Guy Higgins, the initial researcher who had contacted me about the Forgotten Patriots project, "none of this would be happening today. Thank you."
Gary O. Green, whom I had assisted in identifying relationships among those buried in the George Family Cemetery, also gave me kind words of appreciation.

And lastly, I was surprised to be awarded a pin representing the SAR Outstanding Citizenship Award. I knew then that my departed 1st cousin once removed, Ralph Allen Cangson, former President of the Orange County Chapter of the California Sons of the American Revolution, would have been proud that I had continued in his footsteps.

As a family historian and researcher, I learned several things throughout this five-month project, but none more important than the humbling recognition that sometimes our family ties can be just as, if not more valuable, than what we know and can share about our family history. In all, it takes everyone working historians...and the multitude of cousins still on the home accomplish an act of honor which will be represented in the community long after the speeches are over.

Maria William Cole,
National Vice Chairman Insignia
National Society DAR


  1. Way to go Debra! Wish I could have gone. What a beautiful way to honor so many.

  2. Great post, thanks for sharing! I descend from Ishmael ROBERTS, who served during the RW

  3. Great Post Debra!!! What an honor to represent so many of our ancestors!!!

  4. Absalom Martin is my 5th great grandfather, just came across this article, how wonderful

  5. Beautiful honor, Absalom Martin is my 5th great grandfather.....

  6. Thanks, all, for your kind words! I am currently working on a family history narrative for BCG certification which encompasses our ancestors in the French and Indian War up to the USCT in the Civil War. Our families were very patriotic!