Samuel Sutphin

Samuel Sutphin’s illustrious military career participating in the Revolutionary War was one that demonstrated the dedication and commitment of Patriots of Color to secure their legacy, and what was owed to them, despite the setbacks of their enslaved status and the failures of their masters and the federal government. Sutphin, a Black man, was born into enslavement on January 1, 1747, in the New Jersey county of Hunterdon,1 according to his master Guisbert Bogart’s2 Bible.3 In 1775, Bogart sold Sutphin to his neighbor, Casper Berger.4 This transaction came about because Berger had decided to quit the war after approximately one month of service working as a stonemason.5 Since he knew that it was legal to grant an able-bodied replacement for militia service, he had inquired to Bogart about purchasing Sutphin. As an unwilling enslaved soldier would be rejected, Berger made a deal with Sutphin to free him at the end of the Revolutionary War if he agreed to fight in Berger’s place.6 In reflecting upon his decision to serve, Sutphin is said to have declared that he “believed the white man’s word, hoping to be free when the fight was over. I took no paper to show the bargain, but trusted to my master.”7

Sutphin would end up serving in a number of tours in the Continental militia.8 Between the years of 1776 and 1778, Sutphin signed up to join the military on eight separate occasions, participating in some of the most important military battles of the early war.9 On his first tour, Sutphin and other soldiers were marched through Bound Brook, Scotch Plains, Newark and, last, to Communipaw in Bergen County (Jersey City).10

In a second tour, Sutphin participated in the Battle of Long Island (August 1776) when the British routed Washington’s army in Brooklyn.11 Sutphin had managed to escape on a small boat to Staten Island, taking three days to return home.12 Later, Sutphin was stationed at Communipaw again, then Readington, Princeton, and Rocky Hill.13 He also received accolades for his duties. During his fourth tour, Sutphin captured a soldier and received a gun from “General Dickinson” as recognition of his services.14

Sources

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017), 213.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, March 22, 2022, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” in Stories of Slavery in New Jersey (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2021), 132.

Samuel Sutphin’s path demonstrates the fragility of the enslaved Patriot of Color’s life, and how resilience in the face of obstacles can work to correct injustice and inequality.

Owing to Sutphin’s last tour being so successful, his master Berger was never recruited again to join the war, so Sutphin’s military career effectively came to a close.15 He had clearly lived up to his end of the bargain for freedom, but it would elude him as Berger deemed him too valuable to set free and therefore reneged on his promise to grant Sutphin freedom.16 Despite the assistance from neighbors and fellow veterans, Sutphin’s enslavement continued for 20 more years, as Berger sold Sutphin to Peter Sutphen.17 Eventually, Sutphin was permitted to buy his freedom using funds he had saved through selling racoon, muskrat and rabbit fur.18

Sutphin would eventually apply for a pension from the federal government in 1832 at the age of 85.19 However, a lack of specificity in his testimony, worsened by failing memory,20 and coupled with language barriers,21 led to many rejections from the pension board.22 He also did not have much in the way of documentation of his military service.23 Following five appeals and five rejections, the New Jersey Legislature took up his case, requesting all of Sutphin’s pension appeals from Washington and ratifying an act “For the Relief of Samuel Sutphen of Somerset.”24 This act provided a pension of $50 annually until Sutphin’s death.25 He passed on May 8, 1841, but no place of burial has been located.26

Samuel Sutphin’s path demonstrates the fragility of the enslaved Patriot of Color’s life, and how resilience in the face of obstacles can work to correct injustice and inequality. It took the involvement of the state government (as opposed to the federal government, the more traditional guarantor of civil rights and equality for Blacks) of New Jersey under Governor Peter Dumont Vroom, alongside that of white allies such as former congressman and doctor Lewis Condict, to successfully aid Sutphin in his fight for his pension. In the end, Sutphin’s battles to receive his due freedom, as well as his pension, were illustrative of how the lives of Patriots of Color were largely outside of their control, but could, sometimes, be assisted by the support of those who recognized their importance, value, and lasting contribution to America.

Sources

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 132.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 132.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 132.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 132.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

Eleanor Barrett, “Freedom Fighter,” The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), February 26, 2003.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

According to Geffken, Samuel apparently spoke Dutch, a reflection of his original owner’s heritage, and therefore needed help with his pension applications (133). It is also possible that Geffken “spoke broken English . . . which may account for misspellings and variations of people and places he remembered. . . . He was [also] illiterate” (133).

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 133.

Eleanor Barrett, “Freedom Fighter,” February 26, 2003.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

Eleanor Barrett, “Freedom Fighter,” February 26, 2003.

Sources

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017), 213.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, March 22, 2022, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” in Stories of Slavery in New Jersey (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2021), 132.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 132.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 132.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 132.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 132.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in Their Own Light: African American Patriots in the American Revolution, 213.

Eleanor Barrett, “Freedom Fighter,” The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), February 26, 2003.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

According to Geffken, Samuel apparently spoke Dutch, a reflection of his original owner’s heritage, and therefore needed help with his pension applications (133). It is also possible that Geffken “spoke broken English . . . which may account for misspellings and variations of people and places he remembered. . . . He was [also] illiterate” (133).

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

Rick Geffken, “Dutch and English Expansion of Slavery into Somerset County,” 133.

Eleanor Barrett, “Freedom Fighter,” February 26, 2003.

“Decision Activity: Samuel Sutphen, Hunterdon County, NJ, 1778, 1832,” NJCSS: Social Studies online, https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2022/03/22/decision-activity-samuel-sutphen-hunterdon-county-nj-1778-1832/.

Eleanor Barrett, “Freedom Fighter,” February 26, 2003.

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