Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department or School

History and Philosophy

Committee Member

John McCurdy

Committee Member

Philip C. Schmitz

Committee Member

Steven Ramold


Since the colonization of the New World, Africans and African Americans have played a pivotal role in armed conflicts. Military service for enslaved and free black men often converted into additional liberties, including manumission and a rise in social status. Despite opportunities to gain freedom and additional rights, only a select few received such chances. Blacks that did serve were still considered to be inferior and of a lower social status than their white counterparts. With the arrival of American Revolution, a new found importance was given to the service of black soldiers, and more than 5,000 black men served in the Continental Army alone. Those that took up arms for the United States or Britain were elevated closer to citizenship than black soldiers in any previous conflict. In this thesis, I ask why African American military service in the Continental Army led to citizenship. I argue that the radical change in society ushered in by the Revolution and its republican ideals combined with the colonists’ beliefs of the virtue of citizen-soldiers. The change in the status of African Americans was furthered by the competition between Britain and the United States to arm the most slaves fastest, the large-scale intermingling of the black and white population of the colonies, and the heroic acts accomplished by black soldiers. All aspects combined to produce a change in how blacks were viewed in society and as citizens. After the Revolution, thousands of African Americans emerged with their freedom and had secured greater economic stability, material possessions, and additional liberties including voting rights.

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