Local help sought for national memorial to Revolutionary blacks

Saturday June 18, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A Virginia man is seeking local support to build a Washington, D.C., monument honoring African-American soldiers who participated in the American Revolution. Sixty-five men from 16 towns in Berkshire County served in the war, with 12 coming from Pittsfield and nine from Stockbridge.

Maurice Barboza of the National Mall Liberty Fund D.C. Inc. has appealed to boards of selectman and city councils across Massachusetts, including 16 in Berkshire County, asking them to enact a resolution acknowledging the important role of blacks in the nation’s fight for independence from Great Britain. He is also asking them to voice support for a citizen-funded national memorial in Washington, D.C.

The resolution and memorial would honor, among others, such Berkshire County soldiers as Agrippa Hull, the well-known and fairly well-documented black patriot. Born a free man in 1759, he grew up in Stockbridge.

Hull joined the Colonial Army in 1777 and served for more than six years as an orderly for Gen. John Paterson and Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish patriot and military engineer who fought in the American Revolution.

Hull was at the Second Battle of Saratoga in New York -- a turning point in the war, many believe, as well as Valley Forge and the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, among others.

Hull returned to Stockbridge after the war and received a veterans pension signed by Gen. George Washington. He became the largest African-American landowner in Stockbridge before his death in 1848. He is buried in the town’s cemetery.

Barboza has received a response from Great Barrington Town Manager Kevin O’Donnell who said he would present the information to the Board of Selectmen at the June 27 meeting.

No other Berkshire County communities have contacted Barboza thus far, but resolutions have been passed in Chester (Hampden County), Lancaster and Oxford (Worcester County), Edgartown (Dukes County), Harwich (Barnstable County) and by 13 towns in Connecticut, according to Barboza.

"It’s a slow process," he said.

There are 194 communities in Massachusetts and 80 in Connecticut where black soldiers were either born, lived, mustered into service or died, according to Barboza, and his goal is to let the communities know about this fact.

"It’s their history," he said.

Barboza’s journey toward highlighting blacks’ role in the nation’s fight for independence from Great Britain began in 1984 when he read "The Negro in the American Revolution," by Benjamin Quarles, published in 1961.

The book was one of the first to tackle what had been a somewhat unknown subject.

African-American soldiers in the Revolution "fought for the principals I had learned about in grade school. They’ve never been honored properly for it," Barboza said.

He decided to take on the task of honoring them. And in 2005, he incorporated the nonprofit National Mall Liberty Fund D.C.

Barboza said he remains as dedicated to the cause today as when he first started.

Getting a national monument built is no easy task. According to Barboza, the process involves "jumping through hoops," requiring congressional and presidential approvals and working with a multitude of federal agencies on everything from picking a site to the memorial’s design.

"I’m hoping it will happen sooner rather than later, he said.

One piece of the process has begun. In May, U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Charles Grassley of Iowa introduced legislation to allow the monument to be built on a parcel of land adjacent to the National Mall.

Barboza said that while not every state had black soldiers who participated in the war, their descendants in ensuing years have spread throughout the country, if not the world, making this a truly national issue.

For more information about National Mall Liberty Fund D.C. Inc., visit www.libertyfunddc.org.

Black patriots

Sixty-five African-Americans
hailing from 16 towns in Berkshire County served in
the American Revolution:

Adams: 4, Becket: 1, Berkshire: 8, Cheshire: 3, Great Barrington: 6, Lanesborough: 4, Lee: 1, Lenox: 1, Pittsfield: 12, Richmond: 4, Sandisfield: 3, Sheffield: 5, Stockbridge: 9, Tyringham: 2, West Stockbridge: 2, Williamstown: 1

In general, blacks served in all of the major battles of the Revolution, from Lexington and Concord in 1775 to Yorktown in 1781. Thirty-one percent of the estimated 5,000 African Americans who served in the war lived in Massachusetts.

There could be between 265,000 to 12 million living descendants of the 5,000 known African American patriots, based on the estimate of between 1.5 and 2.5 children per generation over eight generations of 30 years each.


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