American Revolutionary War

Play button
1775 Nov 7

Dunmore's Proclamation

Virginia, USA

Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, was determined to maintain British rule in the colonies and promised to free those enslaved men of rebel owners who fought for him. On November 7, 1775, he issued Dunmore's Proclamation: "I do hereby further declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining His Majesty's Troops." By December 1775 the British army had 300 enslaved men wearing a military uniform. Sewn-on the breast of the uniform was the inscription "Liberty to Slaves". These enslaved men were designated as "Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment."

Dunmore's proclamation angered the colonists, as they turned many African American slaves against them, serving as another contributor to the spark of the revolution. The opposition to the proclamation is directly referenced in the United States Declaration of Independence. The support of African American slaves would become an essential element to the Revolutionary Army and the British Army, and it would become a competition between both sides to enlist as many African American Slaves as possible.

Dunmore's Black soldiers aroused fear among some Patriots. The Ethiopian unit was used most frequently in the South, where the African population was oppressed to the breaking point. As a response to expressions of fear posed by armed Black men, in December 1775, Washington wrote a letter to Colonel Henry Lee III, stating that success in the war would come to whatever side could arm Black men the fastest; therefore, he suggested policy to execute any of the enslaved who would attempt to gain freedom by joining the British effort. It is estimated that 20,000 African Americans joined the British cause, which promised freedom to enslaved people, as Black Loyalists. Around 9,000 African Americans became Black Patriots.