Among the heroes at the Battle of Bunker Hill was Isaac Freeman, an African-American soldier. There were several African-American volunteers at Bunker Hill, including Peter Salem and Salem Poor, who also participated in the battle at the height of combat when British forces finally scaled the earthworks on their third attempt. It is extremely noteworthy that many African-American men volunteered in the earliest stages of the American Revolution for the cause of Freedom, while the institution of slavery was still prevalent in America, and a population of slaves still existed in the New England states.
Little is known about Isaac Freeman. He participated in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and may have been from Deerfield, Massachusetts. In 1780, Freeman petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature. He requested compensation for personal property lost at the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was granted, verifying his participation in the conflict. The following letter was published in the January 18, 1781 edition of the Massachusetts Spy:
From the Boston GAZETTE, Messrs. PRINTERS,
Your publishing the following copy of a petition presented to the General Assembly in their late Sessions, may probably amuse some of your readers.
The Commonwealth of MASSACHUSETTS.
To the Hon. Senate, and Hon. House of Representatives in General Court assembled.
November 18, 1780.
The memorial of Isaac Freeman, (a poor negro), Humbly [herewith],
That your memorialist, in the face of death and danger, entered the service of this country, on that auspicious and ever memorable, and thence happy day, the 19th of April, 1775, which glorious morn gave birth to the independence of America. No sooner was the alarm given, that a band of the British villains, robbers, and cut-throats, had begun the horrid slaughter, by shedding the blood of a number of the worthy inhabitants of Lexington; but their blood cried from the ground for vengeance, and demanded of all the sons of freedom, to repair to arms, and revenge the injury done their bleeding country — [entered the service on that blessed occasion, and have sought and bled in the cause of the country; and remain a faithful soldier to this hour.
Your memorialist would beg leave to acquaint your honors, that in the second battle that was sought in June following on Bunker's Hill, he in the retreat lost a very good fire-arm, his knapsack, containing one handkerchief, shirts, hose, &c., which cost him at that day, forty or fifty hard dollars, for which be never has received one farthing; though others have been fully and generously rewarded for their losses by former houses of assembly, whose noble example of rewarding merit, and doing justice, he doubts not will ever be the path your honors will delight to step in, and hereby encourage good soldiers in your honours service; his losses and services, he think ought go hand, and therefore humbly begs leave further to observe to your honours —
That your memorialist was the happy man (though a poor negro) that put an end to the life of that bold, and of course dangerous man, Major Pitcairn, with eight or ten others that day, besides wounding a number of other villains; in the execution of which service, your memorialist received three very bad wounds from the British pirates; in this wounded and bleeding condition, he continued like a bold soldier fighting for the country till he was obliged with the heroes of the day, to retreat, which was worse than death to a soldier, and give up the ground to the British hell hounds, and all for want to the help of those cowardly commanders, and the poltroon fellows under the command whose infamous names I conceal, who lay during the whole action at the back of the hill, out of danger; Had they like men come on, instead of the shame and disgrace of that day, a most complete victory would have taken place, and the whole of the British army would, by the close of that day, been snuggly sent DOWN, DOWN to the abode of shame disgrace and despair; whose just fate would have received my hearty amen and amen, as those did which I sent there in battle. — And very happy, happy would it have proved to the United States, if that infallible rule had been adopted on this occasion, of the Great the Wise and ever memorable General and Protector OLIVER CROMWELL, Esq.; of Blessed Memory — (To Pay WELL and HANG WELL.) And had their frighted commanders been made an example of, with some of their hen-pecked comrades (Sing Would not those wretches, who now in triumph Have graced a gibbet, and adorned string?
Sure I am that justice would have taken place, and the world been rid of a very tame set of j-k-ass-s, who live only to discourage better solders, and much time saved which has been taken up in court marshals, to try cowardly leaders; and at this day, not one British officer, or British soldier, would have been found in any part of America. By the conduct of the above frighted fellows, I was deprived that pleasure which I so earnestly wished to see, which was, to have seen the Britons turning their backs, covered with shame, disgrace and slaughter, as with a garment with everlasting destruction tripping at their heels, so enclose Tom Gage, and the remainder of his army in the same net.
Your memorialist now looks up to the seal of justice, which your honours now find with dignity, under a new, and he trusts, is the happiness Constitution now in being under Heaven, and which he prays GOD to establish to this end of time, and crown your honors with eternal glory.
And notwithstanding the loss of blood and treasure, &c. &c., has not yet been rewarded: I stand ready whenever called into the field by your Honours command, to step forth and spill the last drop of blood in the defence of your Honors lives, estates, and this much injured country and resign my life, as every good soldier ought to do, when I hope to join those noble Martyrs who are enrolled in the catalogue of fame, in the other world, who fought, bled and died in the cause freedom and liberty, and there to mix (though a poor negro) with a Charles the XII a Cromwell and a Warren who are now set down in peace, crowned with everlasting joy and glory.
I now close with hoping your honours will take into your most serious consideration, my case, with my wounds and loss of blood and treasure; and grant a poor negro such recompence as to your honours, in your great wisdom and goodness shall seem mete; and he, in duty bound, will ever pray.
[copy] ISAAC FREEMAN.
The legislature had quickly approved Isaac Freeman's petition, with the following statute enacted:
A Grant of Five Pounds to Isaac Freeman for losses at the Battle of Bunker-Hill.
On the Petition of Isaac Freeman, praying for the allowance of losses sustained at the Battle of Bunker Hill:
Resolved, That there be paid out of the public treasury of this Commonwealth, the sum of five pounds of the bills of the new emission, in full for his losses said forth in said petition.
November 16, 1780.
Contact Information & Address:
Bunker Hill Monument
Monument Square, Charlestown, MA