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“Soldiers at the siege of Yorktown,” by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger, 1781

How did African Americans participate in the Revolutionary War? How did their actions reflect a desire to enjoy their natural rights?

  • I can connect actions taken by African Americans during the Revolutionary War to an understanding of natural rights of equality and justice.
  • I can summarize the main ideas of historical text.
  • I can create an argument supported by evidence from primary sources.

Building Context

Jean Baptiste Antoine de Verger was a French artist who fought in the American Revolution in a French regiment (the French had allied with the American patriots in 1778). De Verger kept an illustrated journal during the war and drew the following soldiers that were a part of the Patriot army during the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781. From left to right: a Black soldier of the First Rhode Island Regiment, a New England militiaman, a frontier rifleman, and a French officer.

The First Rhode Island Regiment was an elite unit of all Black soldiers commanded by white officers. Most New England regiments were integrated. After the War of 1812, Black and white soldiers would not be integrated in military units again until 1948. You can learn more about the First Rhode Island Regiment by watching this video.

“Soldiers at the siege of Yorktown” by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger, 1781

This watercolor from the American War of Independence is by Jean Baptiste Antoine de Verger (1762-1851), a French artist who himself fought in the war as a sub-lieutenant in a French regiment and who kept an illustrated journal of his experiences in the war. The watercolor, which appears in the journal, shows the variety of soldiers fighting for American independence, depicting, from left to right, a black soldier of the First Rhode Island Regiment, a New England militiaman, a frontier rifleman, and a French officer. An estimated 5,000 African-American soldiers fought in the Revolutionary War. Although most black soldiers from New England fought in integrated regiments, the First Rhode Island was an exception--it was made up of 197 black men commanded by white officers. Nevertheless, it was considered an elite unit, and saw action at the Battle of Rhode Island and the Siege of Yorktown. The watercolor is part of the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection at the Brown University Library, the foremost American collection devoted to the history and iconography of soldiers and soldiering, and one of the world's largest collections devoted to the study of military and naval uniforms.

Comprehension and Analysis Questions

  1. What does this image reveal about the Patriot Army at Yorktown?
  2. What evidence does this document provide about the role of African Americans in the Revolutionary War?
  3. Does this document provide any evidence of an understanding of natural rights by the artist? Explain.

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