Salem Poor

Salem Poor (c. 1748–1802) was an African American soldier who fought with distinction at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Born into slavery in Andover, Massachusetts, Poor managed to purchase his freedom in 1769 for £27. Poor soon married a free African American woman named Nancy. In 1775, he enlisted in the militia, serving under Captain Benjamin Ames in Colonel James Fryes' regiment, opposing the British troops stationed in Boston. Poor is best remembered today for his actions during the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, where he is credited with mortally wounding British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie.

Poor's valor and gallantry at the Battle of Bunker Hill caused 14 officers, including Colonel William Prescott, to cite him for heroism and petition the General Court of Massachusetts with the following statement:

The Reward due to so great and Distinguished a Character. The Subscribers beg leave to Report to your Honorable. House (Which We do in justice to the Character of so Brave a man) that under Our Own observation, we declare that A Negro Man Called Salem Poor of Col. Fryes Regiment, Capt. Ames. Company in the late Battle of Charleston, behaved like an Experienced Officer, as Well as an Excellent Soldier, to Set forth Particulars of his Conduct would be Tedious, We Would Only beg leave to say in the Person of this Negro Centers a Brave & gallant Soldier.

On July 10, 1775, George Washington decided to end the recruitment of African-Americans. On November 12, he issued orders prohibiting all black men from serving in the Continental Army. (Despite the ban on recruitment, those who had already been serving for some time were allowed to stay until this point.) On hearing of this, Lord Dunmore, who at the time was Governor of Virginia, offered freedom to all slaves willing to serve with the British. Washington, sensing the disaster that would almost surely result, immediately changed his position, at once ordering all recruiters to enlist any black men who wanted to fight.

Poor immediately re-enlisted and served with the Patriot forces until March 1780, when he was apparently discharged. He is known to have retreated to the winter camp at Valley Forge and fought in the Battle of White Plains. Little is known of his post-war life, although a genealogist in the 21st century has uncovered more information about him. {See "Boston Globe" note below}.

Poor was honored with a stamp in the "Contributors to the Cause" series commemorating the United States Bicentennial in 1975.


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