By Jaime Ferris
But Native Americans and black slaves had their places in the American Revolution, just as they have fought in all American wars. They fought with the same courage, determination and spirit with which they struggled to protect their own homeland.
Recognizing this important, albeit forgotten, part of American history, the Institute for American Indian Studies (IAIS) in Washington will pay homage to these brave men and women in "Native American Patriots," a small exhibit in July and August honoring Native Americans who fought for the United States.
Mr. Wagner, a historian by profession, stumbled upon this chapter of history while conducting research for his other paintings. Among his findings was a letter from Gen. George Washington in 1778 that noted, "I think [Indians] can be made of excellent use, as scouts and light troops."
"A day before departing south, the French and American forces held a parade through the streets of Providence ... [where] the American unit of the First Rhode Island [was] being reviewed by General Rochambeau atop his horse," Mr. Wagner said. "His aide-de-camp, the Baron Ludwig Von Closen, ... recorded in his journal that none of the American units could compare to the spit and polish of the French army except the First Rhode Island, and that regiment, 'which is three-quarters negro and the rest Native American, is the best dressed, the best under arms, and the most precise in its maneuvers.'"
He said the First Rhode Island was involved in every major battle of the war.
"Native American tribes in the West that were fearful of American expansion into their traditional tribal grounds tended to become British loyalists and joined in fighting against the colonists," Ms. Temmen said. "Tribes along the East Coast who had become part of American-English society viewed the Revolution as an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of political and social equality by exhibiting loyalty to their patriot neighbors."
This is evident in Mr. Wagner's "Desperate Valor," which shows the newly-formed First Rhode Island regiment in action against the Anspach Regiment at Newport-Portsmouth on Aug. 28, 1778. Mr. Wagner noted that "This regiment turned back three attempts by the British to break their line. The delay allowed General Sullivan to escape to the mainland while these troops defended and held off the British advance.
The biographer for General Sullivan recorded their action with this entry: "The black troops under Col. Christopher Green displayed desperate valor by holding off three attempts by Hessian troops to break their line."
For more on the subject, see Forgotten Native Patriots and Fun Fourth of July Facts.