Sigby Talbot

The story of Sigby Talbot, an enslaved Black man owned by American Revolutionary War officer Silas Talbot1 and commissioned to fight for the American cause, highlighted the complexity of the lives and apparent choices that confronted enslaved Black participants in the American War of Independence. For much of his adult life, Silas Talbot had participated in the enslavement of Africans, and by the time of the American Revolution he possessed an enslaved Black man named Sigby Talbot.2 By 1778, facing an ongoing war effort that, at the time, did not appear encouraging for American forces, General Washington agreed to Rhode Island’s plan to assemble a 178-man Continental Army regiment of Black combatants, and included in that regiment was Sigby Talbot.3

The Rhode Island plan offered Black soldiers the promise of payment and, for the enslaved, freedom. In February 1778, the General Assembly of Rhode Island enacted a law that allowed enslaved Blacks to fight in the Revolutionary Army.4 Incentivizing enslaved Blacks’ participation in the war effort against Britain, the “Black soldiers in the proposed Rhode Island battalions were promised equality of remuneration [and] . . . for the slave . . . the law provided that upon his acceptance into the army he ‘would be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress and be [made] absolutely free.’”5 What was more, this law “also made provision for the care of such freedmen who, after enlisting, should become sick or otherwise incapacitated,” and because the enslaved were considered a form of chattel property, the Rhode Island law also mandated compensation by the state to masters whose slaves were enlisted in the army.6 Sigby was enlisted on March 6, 1778, and his owner, Silas, was compensated in the amount 100 pounds.7

Sources

Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island Historical Tracts, No. 9: The Treasurer’s Account of the Negro Slaves Inlisted into the Continental Battalions, to Whom They Did Belong and the Valuation of Each Slave, with Notes Concerning Them (Providence, RI: Sidney S. Rider, 1880), 53.

Ronald Angelo Johnson, Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2014), 114.

Ronald Angelo Johnson, Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2014), 114.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” The Journal of Negro History 37, no. 2 (1952): 142, accessed February 17, 2022, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2715341.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” The Journal of Negro History 37, no. 2 (1952): 142, accessed February 17, 2022, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2715341. 143.

What happened to Sigby after the war remains something of a mystery. He may very well have attempted, along with other veterans of color, to obtain his unpaid earnings from the State, or he may have found himself resisting the efforts of his former master, Silas, to reenslave him.

The Black regiment, of which Sigby was a part, contributed actively to winning American independence and was one of the sole units of the American army that was enlisted for the duration of the war effort.8 Beginning with its creation in 1778 until its dismantling in 1783, this regiment of the enslaved saw five consecutive years of active military service, a record that few white troops equaled.9 After these five years of service, however, the regiment was disbanded and, as with all other Revolutionary War battalions, demobilized without pay.10 The soldiers subsequently returned to their homes with only a distant hope of receiving the remuneration owed to them for their participation in the Revolutionary War effort.11

What happened to Sigby after the war remains something of a mystery. He may very well have attempted, along with other veterans of color, to obtain his unpaid earnings from the State, or he may have found himself resisting the efforts of his former master, Silas, to reenslave him.12 The record is not clear. However, what is apparent is that his participation in America’s struggle against Britain was one of many pivotal—and overlooked—parts of the American War of Independence. By recognizing his and his contemporaries’ agency as Black soldiers fighting for their own emancipation, a more complete picture of the meaning and significance of the war can be realized and reflected upon by all Americans.

Sources

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” The Journal of Negro History 37, no. 2 (1952): 142, accessed February 17, 2022, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2715341. 143.

Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island Historical Tracts, No. 9, 53.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 169–170.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 170.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 171.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 171.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 172.

Sources

Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island Historical Tracts, No. 9: The Treasurer’s Account of the Negro Slaves Inlisted into the Continental Battalions, to Whom They Did Belong and the Valuation of Each Slave, with Notes Concerning Them (Providence, RI: Sidney S. Rider, 1880), 53.

Ronald Angelo Johnson, Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2014), 114.

Ronald Angelo Johnson, Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2014), 114.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” The Journal of Negro History 37, no. 2 (1952): 142, accessed February 17, 2022, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2715341.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” The Journal of Negro History 37, no. 2 (1952): 142, accessed February 17, 2022, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2715341. 143.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” The Journal of Negro History 37, no. 2 (1952): 142, accessed February 17, 2022, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2715341. 143.

Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island Historical Tracts, No. 9, 53.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 169–170.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 170.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 171.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 171.

Lorenzo J. Greene, “Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution,” 172.

More Patriot Profiles

Nicholas Cusick

Investigating certain Patriots of Color sometimes reveals a great irony in history—that very prominent people, who had ...

View Profile

Jack Congo

The course of the life of Jack Congo (alternatively, Congo Jack) showed how the relationship between slavery ...

View Profile

Mary Hemings

At times in American history the lives of “ordinary” individuals may become complicated and magnified by extraordinary ...

View Profile