Local man traces his roots to free blacks who fought in the American Revolution


HARLOWE, Craven County - It's a little known but important piece of American history: black soldiers fighting against the British in the Revolutionary War. It's estimated that 5,000 black soldiers served on the Patriot side during the Revolution, which lasted from 1775 to 1783. Fourteen free men of color from the Harlowe community of Havelock fought in key battles of the war, with General George Washington leading the fight for independence. Ed Carter, 76, of Greenville, traced his genealogy and said he's related to at least four of the Patriots, but the one ancestor he could prove -- Absalom Martin -- made it possible for Carter to be inducted into the North Carolina Society Sons of the American Revolution last August. "And that's the sad scenario, because our story has not been told," Carter said. "Think about it -- 14 black people voluntarily fought for this country... fought without being forced. They didn't have to go to war." The soldiers are recognized in the book -- African-American Patriots in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. It says Martin was a "free mulatto... enlisted as a private... and served for 12 months". A plaque was hung in the Patriots' honor at the Harlowe Community Center. Carter, a Harlowe native, said "(the plaque) means everything to me." The building where the plaque hangs is also part of Harlowe's history. It once served as a segregated school but is now home to a head start and senior center, and just as its role has changed, Carter hopes to bring change to the SAR by starting its first majority African-American chapter. Guy Higgins, a self-professed amateur historian and member of the South Carolina SAR, is working with Carter on the project. He said historians now estimate between 10 and 20% of the Continental Army was black. "From American history classes, we tend to think of the American Revolution as a white only affair. Well that was never true," Higgins said. "The important thing to note was that it was a totally integrated force. You didn't have black-only units like you did in other wars. It was an integrated war... They fought together as equals." They fought in the Battle of White Plains, New York, the Battle of Charleston, and defended Fort Hancock at Cape Lookout, to name a few. Like his ancestors, Carter also served in the Army and received the Bronze Star and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for his service in Vietnam. He went on to become a Greenville School Board member, city councilman and the city's first black mayor. "It has been blessings throughout my life, and I'm just so appreciative of it all," he said. He also appreciates the sacrifices of those 14 brave men. "Can't help it. I can't help it. I'm so proud," he said, fighting back tears. "And every day, I'm just more thankful to God that the story is finally being told."