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Peter Salem - History

Peter Salem - History

Salem, Peter

Salem, Peter (ca. 1750-1816) African-American Soldier: Salem was born a slave in Framingham, Massachusetts, but was given his freedom when he enlisted in the Continental Army. He fought at Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, the opening day of the Revolutionary War. Salem is best known for having fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and is believed to have killed the first Englishman in the battle, Major John Pitcairn. The gun which he is thought to have used is preserved at Bunker Hill in memory of this deed. Salem served with credit in the colonial forces, but died in the poorhouse.


Peter Salem — Patriot of Color

African American Peter Salem was born about 1750 to a slave mother in Framingham, Massachusetts. His master Jeremiah Belknap later sold him to Lawson Buckminster who became a Major in the Continental Army. Major Buckminster promised Salem his freedom if he enlisted, which he did in 1775.

Serving as a minute man in Captain Simon Edgell’s Framingham company, Salem marched from Cambridge and Concord, entering the fight on the Battle Road near Brooks Hill in Lincoln, MA, on April 19, 1775. Several weeks later, Salem enlisted in the Massachusetts army and fought at Bunker Hill. A traditional story of the time, claims Peter Salem to be responsible for killing Major John Pitcairn, the leader of the British attack.

In January 1776 Salem enlisted in the Continental Army. Serving in the 6 th Massachusetts Regiment, Salem trained at Valley Forge and fought in the Battles of Saratoga, Monmouth and Stony Point. He was discharged in 1779.

At war’s end Peter Salem was a free man. He married Katy Benson in 1783 and built a small home in Leicester, Massachusetts, working as a cane weaver. Unable to support himself, Salem returned to Framingham, where he was buried in a pauper’s grave upon his death on August 16 th , 1816. In 1882 a monument was erected in Framingham to honor his service in the American Revolution.

Peter Salem and his story debuted in 2014 at Minute Man National Historical Park, supported by research by Scholar in the Park John Hannigan. An almost life-size figure of the African American patriot added was added to the British and Colonial figures in the interpretive exhibit there. The story of Peter Salem adds to the park’s interpretation of the story of Patriots of Color who fought along the Battle Road.

A mix of free and enslaved men comprised the Soldiers of Color who served on April 19 th , 1775. While records document eleven men of color in minute companies and at least twenty-three men of color in colonial militia companies, evidence suggests the number of enslaved men are under-represented.

Peter Salem

There were many brave men at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Among them was Peter Salem, an African-American from Framingham, Massachusetts. Salem was a slave and had been given his freedom in exchange for enlisting in the provincial army. He was noted for great bravery at the battle.

Peter Salem is believed to have killed British Major John Pitcairn, in the redoubt and at the height of combat. In John Trumbull's famous painting Battle at Bunker's Hill shown below, Major Pitcairn is dying under the British flag, while being held up by his son and another British officer.

John Trumbull had enlisted in the provincial army, and was at Roxbury during the battle. He had interviewed many of the participants from this important event. Peter Salem is believed to be represented in Trumbull's painting. Salem is at the far right, observing the carnage, and the death of General Warren. The image of the postage stamp (left) shows Salem behind an American officer, and the image below is of the entire painting, with Salem on the far right. Trumbull's painting faces east, which meant that Peter Salem would have been one of the last Americans to retreat north after the redoubt was overwhelmed by British forces. Most of the American losses occurred during this retreat.

From History of the Colored Race in America by William T. Alexander (1887), Salem is mentioned: "At the battle of Bunker Hill, Peter Salem, also a colored man, who so gallantly manned and defended the slight breastworks, shot dead Major Pitcairn, of the British Marines, who, in the final struggle, had scaled the redoubt and shouted 'The day is our own!' and was commanding the patriots to surrender, thereby probably gaining the battle." Peter Salem also served at Saratoga and Stony Point.

It is important to note that many African Americans participated in the Revolution on the American side. There was little indication slavery would be abolished in the new republic, and in Virginia the British had even recruited slaves promising eventual freedom (Britain completely abolished slavery in 1833).

Salem Poor was another African-American soldier that served at Bunker Hill.

History and Society

The life of Peter Salem is an extremely interesting one because he was not only a participant in the Revolutionary War he was also one of the relatively few African Americans to do so. He further participated in some of the most significant battles in the war as a member of different militias. Salem was a unique individual during this period because he is noted to have been extremely dedicated to the Revolutionary cause.

Salem was born into slavery in 1750 to a slave woman and was owned by Jeremiah Belknap, who later had him sold to Lawson Buckminster. While not much is known of his life prior to the Revolution, there have been suggestions that he may have been a Muslim, although this is disputed by some scholars   ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Rashid</Author><Year>2013</Year><RecNum>226</RecNum><Pages>78</Pages><DisplayText>(Rashid, 2013, p. 78)</DisplayText><record><rec-number>226</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="rfsd2tds4sedstedwdsp5dryaaaxwpvdtrzf" timestamp="1506753927">226</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Rashid, Samory</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>Black Muslims in the US: History, Politics, and the Struggle of a Community</title></titles><dates><year>2013</year></dates><publisher>Springer</publisher><isbn>1137337516</isbn><urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote> (Rashid, 2013, p. 78) . What is well known is that Buckminster, his new owner and a major in the Continental Army, released him from slavery so that Salem could enlist.

Salem was a participant in the first battles of the conflict, which took place at Concord in 1775. This is attested to through the presence of his name in the role of Captain Edgell’s militia company where he served for four days   ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Quarles</Author><Year>2012</Year><RecNum>224</RecNum><Pages>10</Pages><DisplayText>(Quarles, 2012, p. 10)</DisplayText><record><rec-number>224</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="rfsd2tds4sedstedwdsp5dryaaaxwpvdtrzf" timestamp="1506753427">224</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Quarles, Benjamin</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>The Negro in the American revolution</title></titles><dates><year>2012</year></dates><publisher>UNC Press Books</publisher><isbn>0807838330</isbn><urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote> (Quarles, 2012, p. 10) . Salem is also noted to have been a participant in the Battle of Bunker Hill, where he is considered one of its most important heroes. He was also a participant in the Battles of Saratoga and Stony Point, and was later honorably discharged.

Following his time fighting in the Revolutionary War, Salem got married to Katy Benson at Salem, Massachusetts, and built a cabin close to Leicester. He lived the rest of his life peacefully and gained employment as a cane weaver. His death came about in 1816 and he ended up being buried at Framingham   ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Quintal</Author><Year>2004</Year><RecNum>227</RecNum><Pages>190</Pages><DisplayText>(Quintal, 2004, p. 190)</DisplayText><record><rec-number>227</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="rfsd2tds4sedstedwdsp5dryaaaxwpvdtrzf" timestamp="1506754349">227</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Quintal, George</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>Patriots of Color:&quot a Peculiar Beauty and Merit&quot: African Americans and Native Americans at Battle Road &amp Bunker Hill</title></titles><dates><year>2004</year></dates><publisher>Government Printing Office</publisher><isbn>0160749808</isbn><urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote> (Quintal, 2004, p. 190) . The life of an individual that had played a significant role in the Revolution, which led to the independence of the United States from Britain, came to an end.

Peter Salem fought in some of the most significant battles of the Revolution and he gave almost five years of service to the cause. He not only showed his commitment to the Revolution through extending his commission despite its having expired, he is also considered to have made some important achievements, such as mortally wounding the British Marine Major John Pitcairn at the Battle of Bunker Hill   ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Nell</Author><Year>1855</Year><RecNum>225</RecNum><Pages>21</Pages><DisplayText>(Nell, 1855, p. 21)</DisplayText><record><rec-number>225</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="rfsd2tds4sedstedwdsp5dryaaaxwpvdtrzf" timestamp="1506753680">225</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Nell, William Cooper</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution: With Sketches of Several Distinguished Colored Persons: to which is Added a Brief Survey of the Condition and Prospects of Colored Americans</title></titles><dates><year>1855</year></dates><publisher>Lulu. com</publisher><urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote> (Nell, 1855, p. 21) . His efforts seem to have played a substantial role when it came to the outcome of the Revolutionary War.

In conclusion, the life of Peter Salem is one that is characterized by his considerable dedication. It is this dedication that ensured that he became one of the most prominent participants of the Revolutionary War. Salem ended up in a situation where despite being born into slavery, he went on to fight side-by-side with other Revolutionaries towards the achievement of American freedom. A consequence is that Peter Salem became one of the most important heroes of the Revolution and his place in American history was secured.

  ADDIN EN.REFLIST Nell, W. C. (1855). The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution: With Sketches of Several Distinguished Colored Persons: to which is Added a Brief Survey of the Condition and Prospects of Colored Americans: Lulu. com.

Quarles, B. (2012). The Negro in the American revolution: UNC Press Books.

Quintal, G. (2004). Patriots of Color:" a Peculiar Beauty and Merit": African Americans and Native Americans at Battle Road & Bunker Hill: Government Printing Office.

Rashid, S. (2013). Black Muslims in the US: History, Politics, and the Struggle of a Community: Springer.

Military service [ edit | edit source ]

Peter Salem was given his freedom by Major Lawson Buckminister to join the military and took part in the battle of Concord on April 19, 1775. He appears on the roll of Captain Simon Edgell's company of militia from Framingham as having served 4 days from April 19, 1775. Β] On April 26, he enlisted in Captain Drury's company of Colonel John Nixon's 6th Massachusetts Regiment.

Battle of Bunker Hill [ edit | edit source ]

Salem served with his regiment in the Battle of Bunker Hill where he fired his last shot and killed British Marine Major John Pitcairn. Other free African Americans in the battle were Barzillai Lew, Salem Poor, Titus Coburn, Alexander Ames, Cato Howe, and Seymour Burr.

Salem reenlisted for one year on He was honorably discharged from the Continental Army on December 31, 1779 with four years and eight months service. Γ]

In addition to Bunker Hill, Salem also fought at the battles of Saratoga and Stony Point.


The Truitt family launched their first food processing business in Princeville, Illinois, canning corn and other vegetables.

The family opened a processing plant in Louisiana canning sweet potatoes. (photo Circa 1954)

David Truitt graduated from college following years of service in the Navy and joined his father’s company, learning the canned food business.

David Truitt and his brother, Peter, move to Oregon to purchase a historic cannery and did what they knew best, can locally grown fruits and vegetables. This marked the beginning of Truitt Bros., Inc.

In 1999, Truitt Bros. significantly expanded its production capacity with the purchase of a second Salem, Oregon-based facility and warehouse. The plant, acquired from Agripac, was previously a facility where frozen vegetables, grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, were re-packed from large totes into retail-size plastic bags.

Truitt Bros. opens a state-of-the-art contract manufacturing facility in E. Bernstadt. Kentucky, expanding its production and warehouse capacity by 325,000-square feet.

Truitt Bros. was recognized by Food Processors Magazine as R&D Team of the Year. The honor which was initiated by the industry and customers.

The retail brand Truitt Family Foods becomes an independent business operating parallel to Truitt Bros., Inc. and led by Peter Truitt in the same cannery where it all started in 1973.

Truitt Bros. forms a business alliance with Seneca Foods, a leader in the food processing business.

Peter Salem

An African-American Slave born in Massachusetts Colony in 1750, Peter Salem was one of the very few ''Freemen'' who served in The American Continental Army during The American Revolution. Although still a slave in 1775, His Master (was had received a Commission as Major in The American Army), freed Peter. He then joined The 6 th Massachusetts Regiment (formed from a local Militia). His claim to Military ''fame'' was that it was Peter Salem who delivered the fatal musket shot at The Battle of Bunker Hill (1775) that killed British Major John Pitcarin.

Peter would go one to fight in several more major engagements of The War &ndash including fighting at The Battle of Saratoga (1777) which gave the Americans their first major victory with the surrender of British General John Burgoyne and His Army. His Service Contract up in 1780, Peter retired on a small Pension and brought a Cabin. Married, He would live His life as a Cane Weaver. He died in 1816 at 66 years of age. In 1882, The Residents of Salem, Massachusetts (where Peter was laid to rest), raised the then massive sum of $150.00 (USD) to erect a special Monument to Peter's service.

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'Black Patriots' Were Heroes Of The Revolution — But Not The History Books

John Trumbull's painting The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Peter Salem is thought to be the figure in the lower right.

From the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

A new documentary, Black Patriots: Heroes of the Revolution, introduces us to heroes of the American Revolution who aren't typically found in history books. They are a writer, a double agent, a martyr and a soldier — and they are all black.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the executive producer. He is a Hall of Fame basketball player, writer, activist, and in 2016 the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Abdul-Jabbar says he was born and raised in New York City, in "the last part of Manhattan that George Washington controlled before he had to leave and escape and go to Valley Forge," he says. "You know, I read about that incident in my history books, and I was surprised to find out that it happened in in my neighborhood. So after that, you know. My experiences as a child, we often would find like musket balls and arrowheads in the parks. Right there in northern Manhattan. And you know, I felt a real connection to the history of that area."

Interview Highlights

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the executive producer of Black Patriots. Jai Lennard hide caption

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the executive producer of Black Patriots.

On why we don't know these stories

Well, we don't know the stories already because people who write history books, or who have written most of the history books have focused on what European Americans thought, and what their objectives were, and what they did to make those objectives become real. And anybody who was not European was not seen as being worth depicting, because their stake in it seemed to be non-existent. This nation was founded by white people, for white people. At the time, blacks were not allowed citizenship. Women were not allowed to vote. Native Americans were not allowed citizenship. That's the way it was back in those days.

On the story that had the most impact on him

Well, Peter Salem is absolutely a hero doing a heroic thing at a very crucial time. Peter Salem frustrated the final attempt by the British to take the field [at the Battle of Bunker Hill] by shooting Major Pitcairn, who was an officer in the British army. He shot him before he could gather the troops. The British professional soldiers thought that they could run our side off of the field because, you know, they weren't professional soldiers. But we changed their mind over the period of the Revolutionary War. And in the end, the British had to concede.

There's a painting of the Battle of Bunker Hill and Peter Salem, I think, is in it. He's down in a corner hiding behind the shoulder of one of the white American officers. And you almost don't see him. I think in some in some paintings he's been cropped off. But there's a black soldier there.


From Skyhook To STEM: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Brings The Science

On black Americans during the Revolution


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 'If It's Time To Speak Up, You Have To Speak Up'

Both sides of the war really tried to recruit black slaves into their army, and they promised freedom to any black slave that would join either army. The ones that joined the revolutionary cause were lied to. They were not granted their freedom after they did serve in the army. But the blacks that joined the British army were able to effect their own freedom. And when the British retired from North America, they took those guys with them who had citizenship and went to places like Nova Scotia or the Caribbean, or even back to England.

On why it's important now to look back at this moment

Some of the things that we see today remind us of things that happened before, and not in a very positive way. When I saw the children that were trying to apply for asylum in America being separated from their parents at the Texas border, it reminded me of the way that slave children were ripped from their parents so that their parents could be sent to various plantations and worked to death. That that was a common thing back then. And the same ability to ignore human suffering and do something like that — which was exhibited by slave masters — was exhibited by some of the officials dealing with the people applying for asylum. And, you know, there was 150 year gap, but it was the same images, and something that we should not be proud of.

This story was produced for radio by Tinbete Ermyas and Robert Baldwin III, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Vocabulary Words

  1. American Revolution – the revolt of the colonists against Great Britain started in an effort to gain freedom from British rule. It that took place between 1765 – 1793 in the colonies.
  2. Patriots – the colonists from the 13 original American colonies who support the fight for independence from Britain.
  3. Loyalists – the colonists from the original 13 original American colonies who remained dedicated to the King and Great Britain.
  4. Liberty – freedom within a society without oppressive rules enacted by a ruling party or persons.
  5. Enslaver – one who prevents the freedom and independence of another by force.
  6. Enslaved – one whose freedom or independence is restricted or prevented.
  7. Retreat – to withdraw and turn back from enemy forces due to being overpowered.
  8. Ammunitions – materials (gunpowder, bullets, or stones) dropped or shot from any weapon.
  9. The Continental Congress – a group of representatives from the thirteen colonies the governing body in the American colonies during the American Revolution.
  10. Militia – a force of civilians fighters created to help support the official military in an emergency.
  11. Minuteman – a civilian (non-military) colonist who volunteered to be ready for battle at a “minute’s notice,” during the American Revolution. The name has been co-opting by many right-wing hate groups, but its origin is from the American fight for independence from Britain.
  12. Poorhouse – a place where those who were without money to provide themselves are taken care of using government monies.
  13. Traitor – a person who betrays or goes against a principle or government usually by revealing secrets to the enemy.
  14. Regiment – a unit of an army made up of several companies (sub-units) or divided into two battalions.
  15. Battalions – a large group of troops commanded by a colonel and working towards a common goal
  16. Fortification – a large wall built to help secure an area against attack.
  17. Commission – a command given to someone a duty.
  18. Intelligence – information of military importance the ability to gather knowledge or information.
  19. Smallpox – an infectious disease that causes fever and blisters that leave scars.
  20. Quota – a fixed number of people set as a requirement.
  21. Legislature – the ruling group of a country or state
  22. Emancipate – to free or grant freedom to enslaved people, or to those who face restrictions.
  23. Freedman – enslaved Africans who were granted their freedom by an enslaver.
  24. Hessian – a German person who is from Hesse.
  25. Fort – a fortified, permanent building in a position of strength.
  26. Monument – a statue, sculpture, building, or other structure built to honor someone of importance.

Salem Poor

Soldier Salem Poor fought in several Revolutionary War battles, including the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Salem Poor has remained one of the very few fabled African American heroes of the Revolutionary War since 1775, due to his strength and stability at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Officers present at the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775) submitted a petition to General George Washington that described his outstanding abilities in battle.

Born enslaved in Andover, Massachusetts, Salem Poor (1747-1802) 1 worked on the farm of John and Rebecca Poor. 2 In 1769, at 22 years old, he purchased his freedom for 27 pounds, which equaled a working man’s annual earnings. 3

In May of 1775, Poor enlisted in the interim Massachusetts Army. This last-minute army consisted of colonial forces primarily from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Thus, the troops that fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 were under the command of Massachusetts and New Hampshire officers. On June 13, leaders of these colonial forces besieging Boston learned that the British were planning to send troops out from the city to fortify the unoccupied hills surrounding it. That would give them total control of Boston Harbor. The local forces had three days’ time to plan a response. The officers did not agree on how to defend the Charlestown Heights, nor did they agree on a hierarchy of authority. Nevertheless, through the night of June 16, 1,200 colonial troops stealthily occupied Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill. 4

During the battle, Salem Poor served in an Andover unit commanded by Capt. Thomas Drury, whose company included several other African American minute men: Titus Coburn, Peter Salem, and Seymour Burr. 5 Poor’s unit arrived as a secondary force, in order to “assist in the building of fortifications.” 6 Instead, due to dire circumstances, they covered the retreating units that had constructed the redoubt on Breed’s Hill and had run out of ammunition. His unit received heavy fire the British Regular Army killed five Andover men near him on the spot and leaft another six seriously wounded. 7 As he helped the wounded, Poor slowly retreated and fired one last shot that killed British Army Lt. Col. James Abercrombie. 8 The British Regular army successfully drove the New England forces off the Charlestown Peninsula, but not without paying a heavy price in losses themselves. 9

In mid-December, Continental Army regimental commanders who had seen Salem Poor’s conduct at Breed’s Hill petitioned the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to recognize Poor’s exemplary service there. The regimental commanders cited that he had “behaved like an experienced officer” and that in Poor “center[ed] a brave and gallant soldier.” 10 One secondary source notes that “(o)f the thousands of American soldiers at Bunker Hill no other was given such recognition.” 11

Salem Poor fought on with the Continental Army to the end of the American Revolution. He re-enlisted for a three-year term with Colonel Edward Wigglesworth’s 13th Massachusetts Regiment, starting in mid-1777. This brought him to Monmouth, and Saratoga, New York. He also served at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and White Plains. 12 He returned home in 1780, free and with veteran status.

On the home front in Andover, he married four times: in 1771 to freed woman Nancy Parker, with whom he had a son in 1774 in 1780 to Mary Twing, no longer enslaved 1787 to Sarah Stevens, White and therefore free 1801 to Hannah Ayliffe, a Black woman of unknown status. 13 1793 city directories listed Salem Poor as a resident of the Boston Almshouse. He was jailed briefly in 1799 for “breach of peace.” 14

In 1802, at age fifty-five, Salem Poor died and was buried anonymously at Boston’s Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. 15 What he went through after his years of enlistment and battles, we can only imagine. Here are some solid facts: he was a hero of Bunker Hill, recognized by all regimental leaders, and was one of at least 5,000 African Americans who served on the side of the Colonists throughout the Revolutionary War. 16

Watch the video: Peter Salem (November 2021).