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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
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Proposal by John Laurens concerning the enlistment of slaves in the Continental Army
Laurens, John, 1754-1782
Volume 19, Pages 911-914

COL JOHN LAWRENCE’S REPRESENTATION OF THE UTILITY OF EMBODYING NEGROES IN S. CAROLINA WITH THE ROUGH MINUTES OF THE COMMITTEE OF CONGRESS ON THAT SUBJECT.

The Enemy’s force in Georgia consists of 3,500 Regular Troops exclusive of Florida Rangers, New Levies and disaffected Americans that have flocked to their Standard. It is said besides, that upon the arrival of the Anspach Regiment at New York 1,500 Troops embarked there destined as a Reinforcement to General Prevost.

In addition to this they possess no inconsiderable numbers of Negro Captives and Deserters, who if they are not armed, will, by serving as pioneers, fatiguemen and Waggoners, preserve the line of their Army entire for the field, and operate the effect of a Reinforcement.

The force of South Carolina is composed of Six very weak Continental Battalions, the effectives of which do not perhaps amount to more than the complements of three battalions on the present establishment, so there are added Militia.

The greatest part of these Troops are drawn out to the Southern Frontier where they are obliged to remain on the defensive.

The Enemy is Master by Sea, and by availing himself of the rapidity of naval movements may make a sudden descent at Charles Town which in that case could not receive timely succor. The destruction of the Stores and heavy Artillery there might unquestionably be effected without difficulty, and this alone would be an object with the Enemy as the loss to us would be irreparable.

In these circumstance it is asked what Relief can be afforded to So. Carolina and what measures taken for the recovery of Georgia.

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If the Composition of the Inhabitants of South Carolina be attended to, it will be found that the greatest exertions of that State will prove ineffectual. These occupations which furnish Soldiers in other Countries, are in this almost universally carried on by Slaves. The body of Yeomanry therefore is not only in itself insufficient for defence but is likewise further weakened by the necessity of detaining a certain proportion at home as guards against insurrections.

The Succours to be derived from the neighbouring States are Militia illy armed, engaged for short periods, impatient of Camp Discipline, who arrive disgusted with a long march, and who from the nature of their engagement may quit the Field at an interesting or perhaps critical juncture.

The remote situation of the Continental Army puts assistance from them out of the question.

The only Resource then of that Country will be the raising a few battalions of able bodied Negroes on the new establishment.

They may be purchased from their present Proprietors at Continental expense for bills on the Treasury payable at a distant day. The Condition of their service to be emancipation at the end of the War. These Troops it is apprehended will be found eventually cheaper than any that can be obtained in the present juncture. They will serve without bounty or pay, will be fed and clothed for less than any other troops and all the bounty and expenses allowed to Recruiting Officers will be saved.

The habits which these men have acquired in a state of Slavery qualify them in a superior degree for Soldiers. They are at once susceptible of the most perfect discipline, they are patient under every species of privation and will endure the greatest fatigue. They are besides constitutionally adapted to service in a warm Climate and in this point of view are infinitely preferable to white Soldiers.

For the more perfect establishment of Discipline and that these troops may be the sooner ready for the field, the officers and non-Comd Officers should be white.

An Argument of policy in favor of this project is that the inconvenience attending a great proportion of Slaves in a State will be daily increasing if our Yeomanry alone be sent to War, as the

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population of the blacks will be unimpaired while the whites are wasted by the sword and maladies incident to Military service.

The utility of these troops perhaps may not be confined to the Present object but very considerable advantages may be derived from their ulterior services.

It is well known that in times of invasion a large body of Slaves is generally regarded as a mass of internal Enemies. But Commotions on their part are always less to be apprehended in proportion as the Military force of the Country is more respectable and the Successes of the Invader become more doubtful; besides, a reinforcement of such Troops as are here proposed would give a decided turn to affairs, change the nature of the War from defensive to offensive, and in all human probability enable us to expel the enemy from Georgia in the Course of the Campaign.

A measure of this kind is not likely to have any ill effect on the negroes who remain in Slavery because they will not participate in the feelings of the Individuals who are transformed into Soldiery and will not envy their condition as they see nothing more in it than the hasards of wounds, and death. Negroes have been made very useful in suppressing Insurrections and it is a fact that they have a less Sympathy for those of their own Complexion than any other men.

There can be no difficulty in disposing of these men after the close of the War. If any troops are kept up they will be very glad to serve and may be distributed in Garrisons in the Maritime and Indian Frontier, or may be employed as Marines.

If no standing forces are kept up So. Carolina will certainly, when delivered from its foreign Enemies, have sufficient vigour to maintain domestic Tranquility.

View of the Expense.
Purchase money of 2.970 men being the Complement in privates, and drums and fifes of Six Battalions at 1,000 Dl. each
$ 2,970,000
Deduct:
Continental bounty for the same number at 200 Dl. each
594,000
Years pay for 2,862 Prs. at 80 Ds
228,960
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Do for 108 Drs and Fifes at 88 Ds
9,504
Bounty to Recruiting Officers 20 Ds. pr Recruit
59,400
Recruiting Expenses
Expenses of an equal number of men on their march from North Carolina or Virgina & their Return.
Economy in Rations and Cloathing

Many Officers who are drawing pay and rendering no service might be employed in these battalions.