Slavery, Emancipation, and the American Revolution - featuring Richard Bell / University of Maryland

By the eve of the American Revolution, slavery was a fact of life for hundreds of thousands of African Americans. As war broke out in 1775, any British official touring the colonies would have come across more than half a million enslaved people. But change was coming quickly, and the American Revolution would prove to be a transformative moment in African American history -- a freedom war second only to the Civil War in significance. African Americans would throw themselves into the revolutionary war effort with more enthusiasm and with more at stake than did many white colonists. The chaos of the conflict would bring many enslaved men new opportunities to declare their independence from slavery and by war’s end more than 6,000 fugitives from slavery had left revolutionary America, taking passage aboard British ships to parts of its empire where they would be legally free. Some ended up in Britain itself. Others ended up in the Bahamas or elsewhere in the British Caribbean. The majority sailed to Canada. While hundreds of thousands more remained enslaved in the United States, the evacuation of these 1,336 men, 914 women, and 750 children from New York City in 1783 was the largest and most significant act of emancipation in American history prior to the Civil War.