Letter to the Editor | Independence was won by all
July 4, 2019
On October 17, 1781, the combined French and Continental forces, numbering about 17,000, defeated the British army at Yorktown, Virginia, and effectively ended the American war for independence.
The loss of so many soldiers and war materials diminished British popular support for the war against the American colonies to the extent that the British Parliament refused to fund the British involvement any further. Peace was declared on September 3, 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, which formally recognized the United States of America as a free and independent nation.
Unknown to many, the first patriot casualty of the Revolutionary War was a mixed-race person, Crispus Attucks. Attucks was part Native American and part African American, and he was killed by British soldiers during the Boston Massacre.
Black patriots also fought for independence at Concord and Lexington during the battle of Bunker Hill. As the first military engagement of the American Revolution, the battle for Bunker Hill remains especially noteworthy for the heroic performance of a former black slave, Salem Poor. Poor was shot and killed by a high-ranking British officer and was commended by Congress at the behest of a number of his superior officers. Salem Poor may be one of our country’s first military heroes.
Just before Yorktown, our struggle for independence from Britain was threatened because the barefoot, raggedly dressed and hungry Continental soldiers threatened to mutiny. Credit could not be obtained from anywhere in Europe. The Spanish leaders of Cuba asked the people of Havana to donate money for the American cause and the Cuban women, mostly well-to-do ladies belonging to cultural and patriotic associations, joined with Cuban merchants to raise the money. The Cuban creoles donated jewelry and diamonds worth over a million pounds — just what was needed to fund Washington’s distressed soldiers. Later, some Latinos of Havana, specifically 27 men and one woman, provided 500,000 silver pesos for our fight for freedom.
Aside from Latino contributions of money, one of our allied armies, led by the famous General Galvez and assisted by Oliver Pollack, who was an Irish Catholic, was composed of Mexican recruits, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, people of mixed race, blacks (both free and enslaved), Chickasaw Native Americans, Acadians and German soldiers.
By the end of the war for our independence, about a quarter of Washington’s army was made up of black soldiers, many of whom were promised freedom from slavery for their military service. (Unfortunately, this promise of freedom was not kept by American leaders.) Also, about one third of the Revolutionary Army was Scotch Irish, some Irish Catholics, many American Indians, often in uniform, as well as about 2,000 Germans, and even a contingent of about 40 wealthy Italians came to America, buying their own guns and uniforms to fight for American independence.
American independence is a product of many different peoples: white, black, Latino and even Native American. Our country was founded by both majority and minority people. Therefore, all Americans should be treated with dignity and respect and given equal treatment by everyone.
Stewart E. Brekke is a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher.