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From Slavery to Freedom: African American Patriots in the American Revolution

There is nothing stronger than the heart of a patriot. Evidence of this fact can be seen throughout the American Revolution as enslaved African Americans emerged from the realities of slavery and the inconceivable tragedies of war to become heroes and true patriots in our nation’s fight for independence and integrity.

Unfortunately, Crispus Attucks, a man of African American and Native American heritage, is often remembered as the first and perhaps the only African American to die in the Revolutionary War. However, there were many others, including Quamony Quash, Cato Howe, Plato Turner and Prince Goodwin, four African American slaves from Plymouth, Massachusetts. According to records kept in the old town house in Town Square (now known as 1749 Court House) Cato Howe was owned by John Foster in 1731; Prince Goodwin was owned by William Thomas in 1771; Quamony Quash was owned by Lazarus LeBaron in 1756; and Plato Turner was the slave of an unknown owner in 1779.

Fighting alongside men who had long considered them nothing more than property to be battered and bartered, these African American patriots distinguished themselves throughout the Revolutionary War, even at the Battle of Bunker Hill. After serving in the Revolutionary War with courage and distinction, Quash, Howe, Turner and Goodwin, emancipated from slavery by the constitution, accepted their freedom. They also accepted 106 acres of land deeded to them by the government in exchange for their service in the American Revolutionary War. The land, known as the Parting Ways – New Guinea settlement – is located near Kingston off Rte 80 (Plympton Road) at Plymouth, MA. Goodwin, however, initially elected not to reside at the New Guinea settlement. Instead, he returned to his master’s plantation and continued as a servant.

Immediately following the American Revolution, Quash, Howe, Turner and Goodwin gradually slipped back into the anonymity of the ages, a time when our country did not recognize blacks as citizens or as equals. As years past, their service in the American Revolutionary War was long forgotten, and their accomplishments relegation to outer darkness by a society that once enslaved them, and whose laws, even in freedom, often oppressed them.

Since 1974, a number of organizations have been working to reconstruct the African American Revolutionary War. One such organization is Parting Ways, Inc. at Plymouth in Southeastern Massachusetts. Members and associates of this organization are striving to factually document and creatively interpret the history and culture of the 18th century New Guinea settlement occupied by the four Revolutionary War veterans. To facilitate this objective, Dr. James Deetz, professor of anthropology at Brown University, was retained to conduct an archaeological investigation at the New Guinea settlement. His research, which uncovered artifacts and food contained in clay containers (Tamraind jars), provided strong evidence that the four black Revolutionary veterans were Africans or descendants of Africans. More importantly, the artifacts, architecture, food remains, and other evidence discovered at this site confirmed that these veterans, their descendants and others who occupied the settlement retained strong elements of their African cultural heritage. Additional research conducted by American linguists, architectural historians, archaeologists, and historians determined that the New Guinea settlement may have been the first settlement in America for free blacks.

In remembrance of the gallant deeds of Quash, Howe, Turner, and Goodwin, their grave site known as HistoricPartingWaysCemetery which is located at New Guinea settlement, has been converted into an archaeological treasure trove listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, a longtime dream of Parting Ways organization is to preserve the history and culture of the New Guinea settlement in a Museum of African American & Capeverdean History in Plymouth, MA. The contents of this data includes census records, genealogical records, letters, historical materials, court records, map facsimiles, and other materials pertaining to black and Indian residents of Plymouth and other towns in Southeastern Massachusetts. The content exhibits on the history, culture, and contributions of Quamony Quash, Cato Howe, Plato Turner and Prince Goodwin – four African American slaves who went from slavery to freedom in fighting for our nation’s independence.

We may never know the true identity of many of the African American patriots who serve in the American Revolution and who sacrificed their lives for life, liberty and justice for all Americans. However, with the archival and archaeological data retained by the Parting Ways organization and the Plymouth Public Library, we can now factually document creatively interpret, and reconstruct the history, culture and experiences of the four African American Revolutionary War veterans who occupied the New Guinea settlement located near Kingston off Rte. 80 (Plympton Rd), in Plymouth, Massachusetts.


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