Lineage Society, Sources of Service

I’m researching a patriot of color in Connecticut. Should I check militia records?

The simple answer: yes.

It seems to have been more common for patriots of color to serve on the Continental Line. Due to longer enlistments, the financial benefit of joining the Continental Line was greater. A Continental soldier could have an enlistment bounty in addition to his regular pay. Enslaved soldiers may have been promised freedom. Not all who were obtained manumission, but many did.

Yet, they had other options. Depending on their life circumstances, they were eligible to join the militia. In the 1600s, the colony had passed a law exempting “servants” of color – a term often used to indicate an enslaved individual, but which may have been applied to someone who was not – from being required to serve in the militia. The law would have limited the options for some enslaved individuals, who may have been blocked by their enslaver, but it did not prevent individuals of color from serving. While officers’ positions were likely out of reach due to racism, lower positions were not.

Therefore, when researching in a possible patriot of color, be sure to check both the militia and the Continental Line.

For more information on the subject, review White, David O. Connecticut’s Black Soldiers 1775-1783. Chester, CT: Pequot Press, 1973. (Reissued 2017.)