The David Library of the American Revolution
Rhode Island Regiment Getting Ready For War.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2012
Treasures from the SFC: African American Volunteers from Massachusetts (c. Lawrence E. Walker Foundation Collection)
“Pompy Perkham. Negro. 28 years old. 5 feet 7 inches high”
A small document created at Dartmouth, Massachusetts and now housed in the David Library’s Sol Feinstone Collection provides a brief but vital insight into the experiences of African-Americans in the Revolutionary War. Probably generated in 1780, this document is a return of three men from the 2nd Regiment of Bristol County, Massachusetts, Militia who volunteered to serve six months in the Continental Army. During this portion of the war, recruiting for the United States Army as at a particular low, as supply and pay issues reached their most problematic levels of the war. In order to bolster the army’s numbers, the Revolutionary authorities called for men to be drafted (either voluntarily or by force) from the state militias to serve in the Continental Army.
The county superintendents of militia, such as James Williams (who created this document) were responsible for sending these men on to Continental Army depots, where they would be accepted by army commissioners, such as Justin Ely at Springfield. What is special about this return is that it features Pompey Perkham, an African-American member of the 2nd Regiment. According to Williams report, Perkham was 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 28 years old. While bare of other details, a quick look at Daniel Ricketson’s The History of New Bedford not only reveals Pompey’s name (listed on pg 382) but also shows that Perkham was an old family name in the area.
Might Pompey have been a descendent of slaves, or a slave himself, serving in his master’s stead? Unfortunately, futher information on this interesting soldier of the Revolution is lacking. Hopefully future research will reveal more of his story. For the full document, please read below. Our thanks go out to Library Intern David Niescior for transcribing this document.
Sol Feinstone Collection No. 2314
James Williams to Justin Ely, Dartmouth Massachusetts 1780[?] (c. Lawrence E. Walker Foundation Collection)
Transcribed by David Niescior February 2012