The Negro in the American Revolution

The Negro in the American Revolution


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



His synthesis of [the] Civil war and abolition, his authoritative book

and articles on the Revolution, his sensitive analysis of Lincoln and the blacks

are all works that remain unequaled or unsurpassed



Books by By Benjamin Quarles


Frederick Douglass (1948) / The Negro in the Civil War  (1953) /   The Negro in the American Revolution, (1961)


Lincoln and the Negro (1962)  /  The Negro in the Making of America (1964)  /  Black Abolitionists (1969)


Allies for Freedom and Blacks on John Brown (1974) / Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography (1988)


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The Negro in the American Revolution

By Benjamin Quarles



The Negro’s important role in the Revolutionary War stemmed from the inescapable fact that both sides needed black manpower. And both sides offered the Negro his freedom as a reward. this valuable book gives us an extraordinary sense of reality of the Revolutionary times and affords us glimpses of all the levels of America’s society.—Publisher


The Negro in the American Revolution underscores the fact that Professor Quarles is one of the most able historians currently writing about the Negro in the American past.—Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography


Exhaustive and painstaking research went into the making of this monograph. . . . [Professor Quarles’] synthesis is characterized throughout by restrained judgment and a high degree of objectivity.—The Annals


One of the major virtues of Quarles’ book is that it does not confine itself merely to [its] principal theme of Negroes as revolutionaries, but deals also with the Negroes who served with the British (mostly as laborers and a few as spies) and with those who were “carried off” at the end of the war. . . .—New England Quarterly


In the Revolutionary war the American Negro was a participant and a symbol. He was active on the battlefronts and behind the lines; in his expectations and in the gains he registered during the war, he personified the goal of that freedom in whose name the struggle was waged. the Negro’s role in the Revolution can best be understood by realizing that his major loyalty was not to a place nor to a people, but to a principle. Insofar as he had freedom of choice, he was likely to join the side that made him the quickest and best offer in terms of those “unalienable rights” of which Mr. Jefferson had spoken. Whoever invoked the image of liberty, be he American or British, could count on a ready response from the blacks.—Preface, The Negro in the American Revolution


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Other Books by Benjamin A. Quarles

Frederick Douglass (1948)

The Negro in the Civil War (1953)

Lincoln and the Negro  (1962)

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (edited, 1962)

The Negro in the Making of America  (1964)

Lift Every Voice: The Lives of Booker T.Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary Terrell, and James Weldon Johnson  (with Dorothy Sterling, 1965)

Frederick Douglass (Compiled and edited, Great Lives Observed Series, 1968)

The Black Abolitionists (1969)

Blacks on John Brown (compiled and edited, 1972)

Allies for Freedom and Blacks on John Brown  (1974)

The Black American: A Documentary History (edited with Leslie H. Fishel, Jr., 1975)

Black History’s Antebellum Origins (1979)

Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography (1988)

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More Reviews

Benjamin Quarles was a great man and a great historian. His work has the extraordinary quality of being both pioneering and definitive. from his biography of Frederick Douglass to his studies of the black people in the American Revolution and the antislavery movement, the scholarship of Benjamin Quarles is classic. But then its author too was a classic: a gentleman whose modesty was exceeded only by his ability. We will not soon see his like. . . . He has left a splendid legacy in print and by his example. Although I never took a course with him, I consider myself one of his students. I have tried to emulate his scholarship, with the understanding that his achievements are far beyond my grasp. I feel extraordinary luck to have known him.—Ira Berlin, Ph.D. University of Maryland, College Park


It is clear that all of us in the field are greatly in his debt. Like [John Hope] Franklin, he has served as a model to a whole generation of scholars in Afro-American history, white and black alike. His synthesis of [the] Civil war and abolition, his authoritative book and articles on the Revolution, his sensitive analysis of Lincoln and the blacks are all works that remain unequaled or unsurpassed. Even his pioneering Frederick Douglass remains a highly respected monograph. The present and next generation of historians are, and will be, writing from a later perspective and addressing themselves to different questions, but Quarles’ works not only plowed new ground, they will live as standard treatments of topics for years to come.—August Meier, Emeritus Professor of History, Kent State University


Ben Quarles and I, for many years, conducted a game of trying to “outcompliment” each other. I would say, “Ben, your The Negro in the Civil War breaks new ground. You have every reason to be proud of your achievement,” to which he would offer a rejoinder that would leave me speechless. “John Hope,” he would begin, “there is nothing like your Reconstruction After the Civil War. When I read it, I ask myself if I can ever match it.” This friendly banter was both light and serious. We really did enjoy matching wits about what we had done; but behind it was a profound respect for each other’s diligence and commitment to scholarship.

Now that we no longer joke with each other regarding our respective “achievements,” I can say categorically and without fear of contradiction that Benjamin Quarles was one of the finest, most original historians of his generation. When I first read his biography of Frederick Douglass, my admiration and, yes, envy extended to wishing that it had been written over my signature! He had a way with words, especially in the manner in which he encapsulated the essence of a chapter in its title: “The Users of Adversity” in Black Abolitionists; “Behind the Man Behind the Gun,” in The Negro in the American Revolution; and “Among Us,–Yet Not of Us” in Lincoln and the Negro.  then, in every line under those chapter headings he elaborated in graphic and revealing ways the ideas that he wished precisely to convey.

I suppose that I am most honored by the manner in which our careers and our work have been associated together in the minds and writings of others. Both in his introduction to Benjamin Quarles’ delightful collection of essays, Black Mosaic, and in his Black History and the Historical Profession, August Meier placed us not only in the same generation–“the last two black scholars of distinction to emerge [after the Carter G. Woodson era] until the early 1970s–but also as two scholars having a common approach tot he study of African-American and American history. he said that Quarles, “even more explicitly than Franklin . . . placed blacks on the center stage of major events and movements in American history.” Under the circumstances I was immensely proud to be in the company with Quarles.

Over the years, whenever our paths crossed, it was a happy time for both of us. We were colleagues in the broadest sense, but I always wanted to be a colleague in the narrowest sense. i wanted to be in the same department at the same university with him. I wanted to share with him the joys, excitement, and the frustrations of pursuing American history. I wanted to learn from the great fountain of knowledge and the wondrous sense of history that he possessed. That never happened, and I am the poorer for this void in my life. (Even so) I can rejoice, as others can rejoice, that Benjamin Quarles, by his magnificent scholarship and his generous sharing of himself with others, has given us a blessings for which we all can be deeply grateful.—John Hope Franklin, Ph.D., Historian

Benjamin Quarles. The Negro in the American Revolution,. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1961

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A progressive historian, Benjamin Arthur Quarles (1904-1996), was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a subway porter. He himself worked as a bellhop on Boston-based steamboats and Florida hotels. He alter enrolled in Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina and then obtained his graduate education at the University of Wisconsin. His dissertation topic was the life of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. This dissertation undoubtedly was the basis for his first published historical work Frederick Douglass (1948).

His doctorate awarded in 1940, Quarles was employed by Dillard University from 1939 to 1953. From about 1948, Dr. Quarles was the dean of the Dillard faculty. Quarles taught at Morgan State from 1953 until his retirement in 1974, and headed the history department there in 1953-67. One of his many highly-regarded books of history and biography, the 1964 work The Negro in the Making of America, was reprinted as recently as 1995.

Quarles married twice: first to Vera Bullock Quarles, who died in 1951;  and then to Ruth Brett, 1952. Ruth Brett Quarles outlived her husband. They had two daughters.

There were few sympathizers at Wisconsin for Quarles’s desires to write black history. “There was a feeling that a black person studying black history would turn it into propaganda,” he later recalled. Nevertheless, Quarles stuck to his plan, and eventually found a professor who consented to guide his thesis research.

Much of Quarles writing style was learned from Professor William Hesseltine of the University of Wisconsin with whom he worked while completing his doctorate. It was a smooth  narrative mask of objectivity. Yet as Wilson Jeremiah Moses, points out in History Teacher (1998), “his persistent efforts to demonstrate the centrality of blacks in building. American civilization, and his criticism of those who did not share his belief in the mission of the United States in the world, show he was a conceptual historian with a clear agenda.”

Quarles’ second book, The Negro in the Civil War, appeared in 1953, the year he moved to Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland, to chair the department of history. In this work he set out to show the deep flaw in the traditional picture of slaves as passive pawns in the fight against slavery. On the contrary, he asserted, 3.5 million African Americans had been major participants in the struggle for democracy, 180,000 of them working as soldiers, and the rest as orderlies, spies, and laborers.

“Milliken’s Bend,” said Quarles, “was . . . [near Vicksburg, Mississippi] one of the hardest fought encounters in the annals of American military history.” Its lesson was not lost on the Union high brass: “The bravery of the Blacks at Milliken’s Bend,” observed Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana, “completely revolutionized the sentiment of the army with regard to the employment of Negro troops.”

In his next major work, The Negro in the American Revolution, Quarles enlarged upon the theme of black Americans as major players in their own search for freedom. He was the the first to cast any light at all on the topic of the African American contribution to the revolution itself. “Unlettered, they put very little down on paper. If they are to be understood, it must be primarily by what they did. Hence, especially in the pages of this work dealing with the Negro acting of his own volition, my approach has been to state the facts about his activities, indicate the documentary sources, and as far as possible avoid conjecture as to his unrecorded thought,” he continued.

His next book Lincoln and the Negro, Quarles attempted to show Lincoln the president as a true friend of the enslaved. For Lincoln opposed slavery  opposed slaver because of the philosophy expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Yet Lincoln also believed that blacks were mentally inferior to whites, that  intermarriage was unworthy, and was non-supportive of voting rights for black Americans. Quarles still concluded: “In the story they would relate to their children, Negroes would lay stress on the enduring Lincoln, in whom death was swallowed up in victory.”

All his previous works were a prelude to his 1969 publication, Black Abolitionists. In this work Quarles challenged the accepted view that abolitionists had been primarily white reformers. There were blacks carrying the anti-slavery banners as early as the1830s. These black abolitionists spiritedly opposed efforts to colonize all black Americans in Africa, and resented the paternalization of missionary whites determined to uplift them willy-nilly. Quarles also reminded the historical community that new Negro newspapers had emphasized the non-white viewpoint, insisting on voting, civil, and human rights for an audience of both black and white readers.

For the journal Daedalus, Quarles wrote one of his last thought-provoking essays. He concluded, “The role of blacks in America–what they have done and what has been done to them–illuminates the past and informs the present. Unless we fully comprehend the role of racism in this society, we can never truly know America.” 


Frederick Douglass, Associated Publishers, 1948.

The Negro in the Civil War, Little Brown, 1953.

The Negro in the American Revolution, University of North Carolina Press, 1961.

Lincoln and the Negro, Oxford, 1962.

The Negro in the Making of America, Collier, 1964.

Black Abolitionists, Oxford, 1969.

Allies for Freedom and Blacks on John Brown, Oxford, 1974.

 Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography (1988)

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Debt: The First 5,000 Years

By David Graeber

Before there was money, there was debt. Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.  Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like “guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.  

Economist Glenn Loury  /Criminalizing a Race

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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updated 5 April 2010 




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Related files: Quarles Bio-Chronology    Historiography and African Americans: Benjamin Quarles  Christian Reports to Quarles  Dent complains of Christian’s Progress on WPA material

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