Peter Salem, an original patriot
The birth of Peter Salem in 1750 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black soldier and patriot.
Though Salem’s birth year is not certain, he was born a slave in Framingham, MA. His owner, Jeremiah Belknap, named him after his hometown of Salem, MA. In America’s early years, Massachusetts, monitoring an insurrection by Blacks, made it illegal for them to serve in the military. When the need for soldiers increased during the French and Indian Wars, Blacks were pressed into military duty. In mid-1775, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety recruited only free Blacks.
Salem had been sold to Major Lawson Buckminster, who freed him. He became one of the Minutemen heroes of the American Revolutionary War. On April 19, 1775, he fought at Concord, Massachusetts. A week later, he enlisted in Colonel Nixon's Fifth Massachusetts Regiment. He served in Captain Drury's company and fought with Drury at the Battle of Bunker Hill. At dawn on June 17, 1775, General William Howe ordered fire on the Americans three times and drove them northward across Bunker Hill. In this battle the Americans had 400 dead and wounded men; the British lost more than 1,000. Salem was credited with the shot that killed British Major John Pitcairn.
Salem re-enlisted in 1776 and fought at Saratoga and Stony Point. At first, General George Washington forbade Blacks from soldiering. After Virginia's governor, Lord Dunmore, freed slaves to serve the British, Washington reversed his orders, and in January 1776, Salem re-enlisted. After the war, Salem built a cabin near Leicester, MA , and worked as a cane weaver. He died in the Framingham poorhouse in 1816. He is buried at the Old Burying Ground. In 1882, the town of Framingham erected a monument in his honor.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.