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Image 2923 Patriots Of Color Archive
A document from the Patriots of Color Archive.

The Digitized Archive Is Now Available and Accessible to All at No Cost on Ancestry®

Nearly 200 rare documents bearing the names of Black and Native American soldiers who served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War are now accessible online to everyone at no cost, thanks to a partnership between Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution and Ancestry, the global leader in family history.

“I am delighted that Ancestry and the Museum of the American Revolution have partnered to make this unique and important archive available to the public,” said Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and author. “The founding of our great republic was truly a multicultural event, but that aspect hasn’t always been taught. This partnership is an important step toward uncovering and sharing stories of the diverse people who played essential roles in creating this nation, including some 5,000 Black men who served the new nation heroically.”

The Patriots of Color Archive was acquired by the Museum in 2022 from a private collector, following the generous contributions of several donors. The collection of original muster rolls, pay vouchers, enlistment papers, discharge forms, and other documents was assembled from auctions, rare manuscript dealers, and other collectors over the past two decades.

As part of their commitment to preserving history that is at risk of being forgotten, Ancestry has digitized the collection and made it available online at no cost. Now, everyone has the opportunity to explore the lives of hundreds of veterans of color and better understand their often-complex relationship to the American Revolution by visiting Ancestry.com/AmericanRevolutionBlackandIndigenousSoldiers.

"So often the story of the American Revolution is told from a vantage point that excludes the many people whose bravery and sacrifice helped to make it happen,” said Ancestry family historian Nicka Sewell-Smith, who specializes in African American genealogy. “From the Indigenous to free people of color and from the enslaved to women and children, our patriots made up the kaleidoscope that is reflected in their living descendants today." 

“At least 5,000 men of color fought in the Continental Army, but their stories aren’t as known as they should be,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, Museum President and CEO. “The free online availability of the archive allows everyone to explore the extraordinary lives of these men who helped to secure independence, yet who have not received the recognition they deserve as American Founders. We are grateful to partner with Ancestry to share these rich human stories with the world.”

Several documents from the Patriots of Color Archive are currently on display in the Museum’s groundbreaking special exhibition Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia, which closes Nov. 26, 2023. The exhibit explores the life and legacy of free Black Philadelphian James Forten and his family’s tireless pursuit of liberty and equality for all, from the Revolutionary era through the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Image 29 23 Patriots Of Color Archive
Patriots of Color Archive documents in "Black Founders" special exhibit.

Within the collection – alongside discharge paperwork signed by General George Washington for an African American soldier – there is documentation of some of the underrepresented soldiers of Indigenous and African heritage who served in the American Revolution. These documents tell important stories, like that of Jabez Pottage, a member of the Nipmuc nation who enlisted in the army in 1775 and served for seven years. After his capture by the British, he was exchanged after four months in captivity. Another story brought to light is that of Jonas Sunsaman, a member of the Pequot nation who enlisted in the Connecticut 4th Regiment in 1777 and died on January 31, 1778, at Valley Forge. 

View the collection: Ancestry.com/AmericanRevolutionBlackandIndigenousSoldiers

The Museum is grateful to the following donors for their support of the archive: Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III in memory of Daniel W. Offit, Denise Foderaro and Frank Quattrone, Bank of America, Philip Syng Reese, Ed Satell and the Satell Family Foundation, with additional support from Tim Collins and the Museum’s Collection Society. We appreciate the State Society of Cincinnati of Pennsylvania, Dr. Scholl Foundation, and Achelis & Bodman Foundation for their support of ongoing research into the archive, conservation, and digital development to bring these stories to life.

About Ancestry
Ancestry®, the global leader in family history, empowers journeys of personal discovery to enrich lives. With our unparalleled collection of more than 40 billion records, over 3 million subscribers and over 23 million people in our growing DNA network, customers can discover their family story and gain a new level of understanding about their lives. Over the past 40 years, we’ve built trusted relationships with millions of people who have chosen us as the platform for discovering, preserving and sharing the most important information about themselves and their families.

About Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution uncovers and shares compelling stories about the diverse people and complex events that sparked America’s ongoing experiment in liberty, equality, and self-government. Through the Museum’s unmatched collection, immersive galleries, powerful theater experiences, and interactive elements, visitors gain a deeper appreciation for how this nation came to be and feel inspired to consider their role in ensuring that the promise of the American Revolution endures. Located just steps away from Independence Hall, the Museum serves as a portal to the region’s many Revolutionary sites, sparking interest, providing context, and encouraging exploration. The Museum, which opened on April 19, 2017, is a private, non-profit, and non-partisan organization. For more information, visit www.AmRevMuseum.org or call 877.740.1776.