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America’s Black Patriots: the History You Never Learned in School

Kimberly Bloom Jackson

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Have you ever heard of Wentworth Cheswell or the Reverend Jonas Clark? How about Peter Salem? If you haven’t, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know either and I taught history.

With all the chatter about February being Black History Month, I thought I would throw myself into the fray to offer a little sneak peek into the history we never learned in school.

Frankly, I have never been a fan of Black History Month. No, I’m not a racist. To me, history ought to be taught through a more integrative rather than separatist approach. The fact of the matter is black and white Americans have often worked side by side contributing to our rich history -- a history that dates back to our nation’s founding. 

Unfortunately, this history has often been distorted, even erased from our history books by progressives -- the real racists.’s take a closer look at some of these amazing black American patriots.

1)  Wentworth Cheswell (1746-1817):  Few people have ever heard of Wentworth Cheswell, yet in 1775 he rode alongside Paul Revere to alert everyone that the British were coming. As the story goes, the two men eventually split off -- Cheswell rode north and Revere rode west. In addition to being a patriot, Cheswell was a respected schoolteacher, church leader, and historian. He also became America’s first black judge in 1768. That’s seven years before America won her independence!

2)  Jonas Clark (1730-1805):  At one point during the all night ride, Paul Revere visited the home of the Reverend Jonas Clark in Lexington where Samuel Adams and John Hancock were also lodging. At the time, British invasion was imminent and when asked, Rev. Clark reassured everyone that he and his mixed black and white congregation were ready to fight. And fight they did!  It was the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775. There’s even a painting of the famous battle depicting the members of Rev. Clark’s church defending their town.

3) James Armistead (1760-1832): When James Armistead was granted permission by his master to serve under the young General Marquis de Lafayette in the American Revolution, doubt he ever imagined himself as America’s first double-spy. That’s right, a double-spy. Armistead was originally dispatched to turncoat General Benedict Arnold’s camp posing as an escaped slave looking for work. He got the job. Even better, he was assigned to work amidst other British generals, including the bigwig himself, General Charles Cornwallis. 

Armistead gathered all kinds of vital information on the British and promptly gave it to Gen. Lafayette. Ironically, Gen. Cornwallis’ trust in Armistead developed into another job offer -- to spy on the Americans. Of course, Armistead couldn’t resist the opportunity and immediately began filtering inaccurate information about the Americans to the British, ultimately impacting the outcome of the war. After the war, Lafayette wrote to the Virginia General Assembly, describing Armistead’s valuable service. In return, he was officially granted his freedom and a full retirement pension. From then on, James Armistead called himself James Lafayette.

4)  Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833): Another black patriot was the Reverend Lemuel Haynes, was abandoned by his parents when he was just five months old. He was taken in by Deacon David Rose and his family who guided him through the successful completion of an apprenticeship and schooling. Soon after, Haynes enlisted with the Minutemen in the Connecticut militia, taking part in important battles including the siege of Boston and a military expedition against Fort Ticonderoga. Later, after the war, Haynes became the first black preacher to be ordained by a mainstream Christian denomination. You might also be surprised to learn that he had all-white congregations in Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York. 

5)  Peter Salem (1750-1816): Then there’s Peter Salem, another member of the legendary Minutemen, who fought in a number of important battles including the famous Battle of Bunker Hill on June 7, 1779. This battle was depicted in a painting titled “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” by John Trumbull. In the painting, Salem is standing behind the man with the sword to the right, Thomas Grosvenor. Salem fired the shot that killed Major John Pitcairn, the British officer who led the Redcoats to attack Salem’s small unit at Lexington. Salem received 14 military commendations and was even brought before Gen. Washington who honored him as a hero. Like others, he was a slave until he joined the army and fought as a free man.

Most people are not aware that many of the soldiers during the American Revolutionary War were black, with nearly 5,000 fighting in the fledgling Continental Army. In fact, military units often consisted of both black and white patriots fighting and dying side by side. 

What’s even more astonishing is that while much of this history is unknown today, it wasn’t always the case. For generations historians had written about this in school textbooks. William Cooper Nell, for example, published an 1855 textbook called, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution.

Since then, these fascinating stories have been excluded from the classroom as if they never existed. Instead, today’s school children are filled with demoralizing stories about black struggle and victimization by whites, as if this is the whole picture of the black experience. 

I don’t know about you, but I believe American children deserve better. They deserve to be taught an accurate history of America, one that includes the inspiring stories of patriotism, integration, and sacrifice. Indeed, these forgotten black heroes are worth remembering -- and not just in February.

Kimberly Bloom Jackson is a former actress turned teacher and cultural anthropologist. She can be found snooping behind the scenes of Hollywood, education, and culture at