Prior to the revolution, many free African Americans supported the anti-British cause, most famously Crispus Attucks, believed to be the first person killed at the Boston Massacre. At the time of the American Revolution, some blacks had already been enlisted as Minutemen. Both free and enslaved Africans had served in private militias, especially in the North, defending their villages against attacks by Native Americans. In March 1775, the Continental Congress assigned units of the Massachusetts militia as Minutemen. They were under orders to become activated if the British troops in Boston took the offensive. Peter Salem, who had been freed by his owner to join the Framingham militia, was one of the blacks in the military. He served for seven years. In the Revolutionary War, slave owners often let their slaves enlist in the war with promises of freedom, but many were put back into slavery after the conclusion of the war.
In April 1775, at Lexington and Concord, blacks responded to the call and fought with Patriot forces. Prince Estabrook was wounded some time during the fighting on 19 April, probably at Lexington.The Battle of Bunker Hill also had African-American soldiers fighting along with white Patriots, such as Peter Salem; Salem Poor, Barzillai Lew, Blaney Grusha,[ Titus Coburn, Alexander Ames, Cato Howe, and Seymour Burr.
Many African Americans, both enslaved and free, wanted to join with the Patriots. They believed that they would achieve freedom or expand their civil rights.
In addition to the role of soldier, blacks also served as guides, messengers, and spies.