By Mario Salas
Andrew Jackson, in an attempt to capture runaway slaves, and remove the Spanish from the Florida, sought to capture the “Negro Fort.” In July of 1816, Jackson led gunboats toward the fort. American forces defeated the defenders of the fort, which was defended primarily by the Colonial Marines, with Spanish, Creek, and Seminole allies. When artillery shot smash into the fort’s munitions area, it exploded, which forced surrender. After the surrender, Andrew Jackson saw to it that many of the survivors were enslaved or hanged. Some Colonial Marines were withdrawn and demobilized and settled in Trinidad in the West Indies. This ended the Black Colonial Marines duty on the field of battle. The Negro Fort today was stripped of its greatest historic legacy by Andrew Jackson and called Fort Gadsden. Fort Gadsden was built in 1818 directly on the site of the Negro Fort in order to erase history and the 300 free African American men that were massacred there.
These black marines were also known as the West Indies Militia, which defeated American forces at Bladensburg, Maryland, on August 24, 1814. The Americans ran toward the capitol and black soldiers chased them arriving at sunset in Washington, where they burned and destroyed most of the public buildings; most importantly the White House and the U.S. Capitol were burned. Cheering black slaves joined in or joined the British while others tried to protect their masters.
In 1813, a black man named Charles Ball, an escaped slave and self-declared “free man of color,” would make a terrible mistake. His choices would be that he could row out to the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay and join the blacks already part of the British Navy, or he could volunteer for the American navy and defend a country that did not respect him as a human being. Ball chose the Americans, and he was not alone in thinking that perhaps some good would result from it. It can be easily hypothesized, like it has been in modern times that by serving in the military, a black man would finally be respected—they would be totally disappointed.
When Ball enlisted, African Americans made up approximately fifteen percent of U.S. navy. Although official U.S. policy at the start of the war prohibited the recruitment of black sailors, a shortage of manpower compelled the navy to accept anyone. These black sailors had a reputation for intensity in battle thinking they would eventually be honored—this would not happen for centuries. When one captain complained about having blacks on his ship, Commodore Isaac Chauncey replied, “I have nearly fifty blacks on this boat and many of them are among the best of my men.” At the Battle of Lake Erie, his black sailors performed so well that letters were sent praising their courage. But, they would eventually be enslaved as would their ancestors.
It stands to reason that blacks often mistakenly thought they would be treated like human beings for serving in the American military. Living on a ship, closely together, was conducive to the development of mutual respect based on deeds and not on skin color. Black sailors were sanctioned by the U.S. government to harass British vessels while many of their brothers remained enslaved on American plantations. On some of these ships more than half of the crew were black.
Fighting for Both Sides in the War
Charles Ball, as a free man, was fortunate enough to have a choice. Besides the Navy and privatizing their service on naval ships, there were even a few black battalions in the American army, but the plantation owners in the Congress and pro-slavery presidents would eventually have their way, and most blacks would be sent back into slavery after the war. Their history as blacks fighting for the American Revolution would be erased. But for most American slaves, the best option was to escape to the British navy. When the British fleet arrived in the Chesapeake Bay, in March 1813, entire families of slaves made their way by canoe to their ships. The British commanders had orders to welcome these refugees. Eventually more blacks fought for the British than for the Americans, and the white Americans that supported the British were labeled “Tories” forcing them to escape South and into the East Coast mountains, were many of them would eventually become poor whites of the Appalachian Mountains.
Black soldiers and sailors fought courageously on both sides of the war, but the British promised freedom for slaves thus giving them a well-defined advantage. There was another advantage. One British admiral suggested that a “Black Force … could be managed and kept within bounds, and the Terror of a Revolution in the Southern States increased to produce a good effect in that quarter.” The author had a clear understanding of the fear that white plantation owners had of armed black men. This would be evident as fear of the Haitian Revolution would be felt in the U.S. South. In 1836, the Alamo defenders would have been fearful of the hundreds of black soldiers in Santa Anna’s army that paraded outside the Alamo for days, fully armed, and who would be responsible for killing most of the Alamo slave-owner defenders outside the walls.
All told, between 4000 and 6000 people were freed from slavery – the largest liberation that took place in America until the Civil War. Three companies of Colonial Marines were formed, and their presence did inspire hatred and fear among the Americans. The corps took part in the burning of Washington, fought in the Battle of Baltimore, and skirmished against American forces all along the coast. The British commander-in-chief said they were “infinitely more dreaded by the Americans than the British troops.”
After the war, American slave owners demanded that either former runaways be returned to slavery or compensation be given for the loss of their property. With few exceptions, the British rejected the demand and honored their promise to free blacks. Slaves that arrived on British soil were considered free; a British ship at war had the status of being on British land, and thus thousands were freed.
Unlike American slave owners, the British offered the Black Colonial Marines farmland in Trinidad in February (Now Black History Month) of 1816, nearly a year after the end of the war, when the black marines refused to be transferred into the army as soldiers in the West India Regiments. Their descendants live in Trinidad still, in freedom, and call themselves “the Merikins, “an abbreviated term for Americans.
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In an editorial on Rep. Will Hurd’s page he announced it’s time to serve his country in a different way.
August 1, 2019 Editorial (https://hurd.house.gov)
There are many reasons why I love America. I have learned over my three terms in Congress, by representing people that voted for me, didn’t vote for me or didn’t vote at all, that America is better than the sum of its parts. Serving people of all walks of life has shown me that way more unites our country than divides us. This understanding has allowed me to win elections many people thought I couldn’t, especially when the political environment was overwhelmingly against my party.
In this experiment called America we strive to create a more perfect union. Our founding principle of a right to free speech has given us the freedom to disagree, and the resulting competition of ideas has produced policies tackling a variety of problems. As has happened many times throughout our history, we now face generational defining challenges at home and abroad.
We are in a geopolitical competition with China to have the world’s most important economy. There is a global race to be the leader in artificial intelligence, because whoever dominates AI will rule the world. We face growing cyberattacks every day. Extreme poverty, lack of economic opportunity and violence in Central America is placing unbearable pressure on our borders. While Congress has a role in these issues, so does the private sector and civil society.
After reflecting on how best to help our country address these challenges, I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security.
I left a job I loved in the CIA as an undercover officer to meet what I believed to be a need for new leadership in Congress on intelligence and national security matters. I wanted to help the Intelligence Community in a different way by bringing my knowledge and experience to Congress. I’m leaving the House of Representatives to help our country in a different way. I want to use my knowledge and experience to focus on these generational challenges in new ways. It was never my intention to stay in Congress forever, but I will stay involved in politics to grow a Republican Party that looks like America.
As the only African American Republican in the House of Representatives and as a Congressman who represents a 71% Latino district, I’ve taken a conservative message to places that don’t often hear it. Folks in these communities believe in order to solve problems we should empower people not the government, help families move up the economic ladder through free markets not socialism and achieve and maintain peace by being nice with nice guys and tough with tough guys. These Republican ideals resonate with people who don’t think they identify with the Republican Party. Every American should feel they have a home in our party.
While I have 17 months left in my term, I’m very proud of the last 55. There were times when it was fun and times when it wasn’t. When people were mad, it was my job to listen. When people felt hopeless, it was my job to care. When something was broken, it was my job to find out how to fix it.
When border patrol agents weren’t getting the tools they needed to do their job, I stepped in to help. When I found an opportunity to expose more students to computer science, I partnered with non-profits to train local teachers to incorporate coding into math class. I made sure taxpayer money was used more efficiently by changing how the government purchases IT goods and services.
It was never about the size nor difficulty nor sexiness of the problem; It was about making a difference. My philosophy has been simple. Be honest. Treat people with respect. Never shy away from a fight. Never accept “no” or the status quo and never hesitate to speak my mind.
NoTwo centuries ago, I would have been counted as three-fifths of a person, and today I can say I’ve had the honor of serving three terms in Congress. America has come a long way and we still have more to do in our pursuit of a more perfect union. However, this pursuit will stall if we don’t all do our part. When I took the oath of office after joining the CIA, I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all its enemies. I took the same oath on my first day in Congress. This oath doesn’t have a statute of limitations. I will keep fighting to ensure the country I love excels during what will be a time of unprecedented technological change. I will keep fighting to make certain we successfully meet these generational challenges head on. I will keep fighting to remind people why I love America: that we are neither Republican nor Democrat nor Independent; We are better than the sum of our parts.
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