Finding Freedom: AndrewSeptember 8, 2019
This is Andrew. He was a boy of 15 when he and his father were drafted into the American Army. Andrew’s experience is one of five real stories of African American men and women featured in the Museum’s touchscreen interactive exhibit “Finding Freedom: African Americans in Wartime Virginia.”
Though Andrew was “drafted” into the American Army, he was not necessarily being forced to serve. A draftee was simply a soldier enlisted as part of a draft quota imposed on local areas by a state. Draftees might volunteer or be offered money or rewards for service. When those options failed to raise enough men, however, individuals might be pressured or even forced to serve by their own community. Andrew recalled in his 1838 pension application that he was drafted into the American Army along with his father, but the terms of their enlistment remain unclear. A 1777 resolution by the Virginia government allowed African American free men to serve as soldiers but prohibited enslaved people from enlisting.
In 1775, about 1,000 free black men of military age lived in Virginia. Some of these men fought on the American side during the war. In his 1838 pension application, Andrew claimed he was born free. He would have had good reason to make this claim, even if it was not true. Men who testified that they were enslaved at the start of their military service were sometimes denied pensions. However, the pension act did not officially exclude men who had enlisted when they were slaves.
He learned how to be a soldier, spending days with his regiment practicing maneuvers. When they weren’t drilling, they marched hundreds of miles. They were always looking for their next meal and a dry place to sleep.Then, they were surprised Loyalist troops at King’s Mountain in South Carolina. Despite coming away victorious that day, Andrew lay awake in his tent, the memory of blood making him sick. He wondered if he could remain a soldier, knowing the horrors of war? Andrew chose to stay with the Army. If Andrew had deserted the Army, he would have found himself far from home and vulnerable to capture by either army or by slave catchers.
Months passed with more chaos and bloodshed. Andrew suffered a head wound at the fighting at Guildford Courthouse. For a month, he was too weak to leave the ironworks that served as a field hospital. Doctor Sidney, an army surgeon, placed a silver plate over the wound in Andrew’s skull. The silver plate placed in Andrew’s head is a historical example of skull surgery, likely trepanation. In order to relieve pressure on the brain as a result of a head injury, a doctor used a special saw to remove a disk from the patient’s skull and replace that void with a piece of metal, like a coin. The risk of death from infection was high, but Andrew’s operation proved successful. Andrew noted the pain he endured from the injury and surgery in his pension application as evidence of his military service.
He rejoined the Army and fought at Eutaw Springs on Sept. 8, 1781. But the pain from his injury returned, and he was sent back to the hospital. Two years after he joined the Army, he returned home on the last day of Nov. 1781.
As a free man, Andrew Ferguson migrated west sometime after the end of the war. He first returned home to Dinwiddie County, but later moved to Indiana, where he lived out most of his life in Monroe County. Ferguson’s war injuries plagued him for the rest of his life, and he eventually drew a small pension for his service in the Army.
For more opportunities to learn about Andrew’s story and other stories about the struggle for freedom, come visit the exhibits and view the “Finding Freedom: African Americans in Wartime Virginia” interactive at the Museum of the American Revolution.
Illustrations by Wood Ronsaville Harlin, Inc.