Considering the fact that they would have benefited more from a British victory, why would any slaves, current or former, choose to fight against the British?

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    Britain abolished slavery in the empire in 1833. What made you think slaves in 1765 could see into the future? At the time of the American rebellion, both sides promised freedom in exchange for service.
    – Semaphore
    Jun 6, 2015 at 16:52
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    Native American tribes fought on both sides, for many reasons. Your view of historical action is very simplistic. Even in the more cut and dried period of the US Civil War, the motivations of current slaves versus staying with their region or striking out for freedom were not as simple. Individuals act, not groups.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 8, 2015 at 17:06
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    I don't think I have done that. I just believe that to commit atrocities, you need to submit your conscience to the dictates of a ruthless, collective, us and them mentality. Hitler screaming gibberish venom on a street corner? Basically harmless. Hitler with millions of submissive stooges at his beck and call? The worst part of the 20th century.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 8, 2015 at 18:53
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    @Semaphore - the British abolished slavery in the Empire in 1833, but it was illegal in Britain long before that. They were obviously more averse to slavery than Americans were.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 8, 2015 at 19:13
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    Feel free to call me an idiot, not a subject I know much about, but didn't the Americans think arming their slaves a bit - err - dangerous?
    – TheHonRose
    Oct 11, 2015 at 2:47

1 Answer 1


Good question - you have to dig past the superficial to understand, and I'm not fond of the way it is phrased, but the fundamental question is interesting.

Here is one example:

Having fought as a teenager in the French and Indian War, Robbins served in an Acton militia company at the end of the siege of Boston. Caesar Robbins became free during the war. He raised his family in Concord, dying in 1822.

I don't know why Robbins chose to fight, I don't know why his owner chose to trust him with a weapon. (I'm making the broad assumption that "fought..." means that he was armed, although it is possible that he was merely part of the logistics train.) I suspect that the author of the blog above would love to explore that issue. In that sense I can't answer your question, but I can offer at least one example of why someone might want to.

Also note that the concept of slavery changes significantly around Bacon's Rebellion and that the effects of Bacon's rebellion propagate more slowly in the Northeast where slavery is subject to different pressures than in the central states or the South. (discussion of the evolution of slavery).

Having offered my caveats, I speculate that some enslaved people (particularly in the Northeast) may have had more hope of fair treatment from their owners than from the institutions that their owners claimed were enslaving them. Some may have perceived themselves as "Americans" (although enslaved, some of them had been here for generations and had no knowledge of other continents/countries/states). Some may have had hope of emancipation & citizenship - remember the Marblehead brigade included free black men, so people in the Northeast would have had a model.

Some may have been promised freedom in exchange.

  • Brilliant answer! I still think that the terror most white Americans felt at the prospect of arming black people - free or otherwise - should have been telling. The British were willing to free slaves to win the war, but Jefferson described the owning of slaves as being like "having a wolf by the ears; we cannot hold him for long, nor can we safely let him go".
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 8, 2015 at 18:16
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    There were plenty of slaves up north too, unfortunately, and most Americans, wherever they lived, were not comfortable with the idea of having people who had been wronged and might seek to avenge themselves living among them. Even relatively progressive people were more inclined to send the slaves back to Africa than to let them live free in the U.S..
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 8, 2015 at 18:24
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    Hell, look at Lincoln- he is regarded as the great emancipator, but he himself said "If I could preserve the union by freeing all the slaves, I would. If I could preserve the union by freeing none of the slaves, I would. And if I could preserve the union by freeing some of the slaves but not others, I would do that." The slaves were seen as a problem to be solved, not people who were entitled to freedom.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 8, 2015 at 18:27
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    This statement is nonsense. Lincoln definitely saw slaves as humans, as did their owners.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 8, 2015 at 18:35
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    @MarkC.Wallace - I'm not happy with the phrasing either, but I'm not sure how to improve it. Feel free to edit it as you see fit. You clearly understand what I am trying to say, and I trust your judgement.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 8, 2015 at 19:11

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