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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


The American Revolution teaches many important lessons concerning the struggle for freedom and independence. The voluminous record amassed by historians on the subject focuses on every aspect of the war from the Enlightenment’s influence on the writings of men like Thomas Jefferson down to the type of buttons worn on the uniforms of the combatants. The scant attention given to the role of slaves during and after the conflict belies the critical role these men and women played in shaping its outcome. Moreover, a closer evaluation of the strong desire to be free present in the slaves, and how they risked their lives to act upon this desire, may reveal a truer expression of the Enlightenment ideals commonly attributed to the patriots. Analyzing the response of slaves to the offers of freedom in exchange for military service made by the British and Americans during the American Revolution provides insight into which offer the slaves viewed as more credible and reflects how both of these societies were on divergent paths concerning slavery. Their participation as soldiers during the conflict also exposed certain contradictions in the slave system that cracked the foundation of slavery leading to strained justifications for its continued existence on one side and incremental emancipation on the other.

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