"A Brave and Gallant Soldier"

Source: www.footnote.com

Salem Poor earned his place in history. During "the Battle of Charleston"-known today as the Battle of Bunker Hill. In this battle, African Americans suffered more than 1,000 casualties. At the Battle of Bunker Hill, Salem Poor performed so well that fourteen officers sent a petition to the Massachusetts legislature declaring that he behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an excellent soldier and added that "a reward was due to so great and distinguished a character."

In the Massachusetts State Archives is a petition to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, stating that in the "late Battle at Charlestown. " a man from Colonel Frye's Regiment "behaved like an experienced officer" and that in this man "centers a brave and gallant soldier." This document, dated December of 1775, just six months after the Battle of Bunker Hill, is signed by fourteen officers who were present at the battle, including Colonel William Prescott. Of the 2,400 to 4,000 colonists who participated in the battle, no other man is singled out in this manner.

This hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill is Salem Poor, of Andover, Massachusetts. Although documents show that Poor, along with his regiment and two others, were sent to Bunker Hill to build a fort and other fortifications on the night of June 16, 1775, we have no details about just what Poor did to earn the praise of these officers. The petition simply states "to set forth the particulars of his conduct would be tedious." Perhaps his heroic deeds were too many to mention.

Few details of this hero's life are available to us. Born a slave in the late 1740s, Poor managed to buy his freedom in 1769 for 27 pounds, which represented a year's salary for the typical working man. He married Nancy, a free African American woman, and they had a son. Salem Poor left his wife and child behind in May 1775 and fought for the patriot cause at Bunker Hill,  Saratoga,  and Monmouth.  We can only speculate about the motives for Poor's sacrifice: was it patriotism, a search for new experience, or the prospect of a new and better life? The Battle of Bunker Hill was a daring and provocative act against established authority; all who participated could well have been hanged for treason. Shut out from many opportunities in colonial society, Salem Poor chose to fight for an independent nation. In the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the bravery of Poor and other African American soldiers "has a peculiar beauty and merit."

In 1780, Poor married his second wife, the widow Mary Twing, described, like Poor, as a "free negro." The couple moved to Providence, where, according to city records Lambert found, they were ordered to leave, presumably because they could not support themselves. In 1785, Poor placed an ad in the Boston Gazette to disavow his wife's debts and "forewarn all Persons from trusting MARY, the Wife of the Subscriber."