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Free black men in Colonial America

John Conway
Posted 8/4/23

The author Larry Kidder describes his book, “The Revolutionary World of a Free Black Man: Jacob Francis: 1754-1836” as “a story of grit and determination combined with kindness and …

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Free black men in Colonial America


The author Larry Kidder describes his book, “The Revolutionary World of a Free Black Man: Jacob Francis: 1754-1836” as “a story of grit and determination combined with kindness and friendship.”

It is that, but also much more.

And Kidder, a retired history teacher, knows how to tell great stories. Among his several books are engrossing reads about George Washington at Valley Forge and about Princeton, New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. His Jacob Francis book is his latest, and it will provide the background for a program he is scheduled to present at Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History in Narrowsburg on Sunday, August 6. He will be signing books that afternoon, as well. Fort Delaware has the books for sale in its gift shop.

Kidder’s program about Jacob Francis, a free black man, follows a presentation on Saturday, August 5 by re-enactor Noah Lewis, who visited Fort Delaware twice last summer and will reprise his program on African American soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Both programs are part of the Bold Gold Media Speaker Series at the Fort.

Despite the title of Kidder’s book, and the fact that there is a considerable Revolutionary War element to the Jacob Francis story, that is but a small fraction of it.

“I will be placing Jacob Francis into the bigger picture as well as telling his fascinating individual story,” Kidder says. “Jacob and [his wife] Mary’s story is much more than just the war.”

Francis enlisted in the Continental Army in October of 1775, and served through the siege of Boston, the New York Campaign, and the Battle of Trenton before his enlistment expired on January 1, 1777. After his Continental service, he served in the Third Hunterdon County Regiment of the New Jersey militia for the remainder of the war.

When the fight for independence had ended, he became a farmer and a family man, and actually purchased the freedom of the enslaved woman he would marry and set her free. Together, the couple raised nine children.

In the introduction to his book, Kidder maintains that “it is important not to stereotype human experience, but rather examine as many lives as possible to understand the diversity in that experience. Therefore, Jacob’s story is not presented as that of a ‘typical’ free black man, but rather as one example among thousands of stories of individual free black people living at that time.”

Kidder says it is not his purpose “to promote Jacob as a hero or a victim” but rather to enhance the “understanding of humanity and its struggles.”

It promises to be a most fascinating program, especially when juxtaposed with Noah Lewis’ program the day before, which features a first-person re-enactment view of a real life African American who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War. Ned Hector, as portrayed by Lewis, was a hero at the Battle of Brandywine and took part in the Battle of Germantown, and other battles as a teamster and a bombardier. (Lewis says that “a bombardier is a soldier with the artillery that is capable of operating in the rear positions of the cannon. A cannon could be manned by as many as 15 soldiers and as few as 3. Five to seven could operate the cannon, the rest would defend it.”)

After the war, Ned Hector lived in Montgomery County, PA, married, and owned dogs and a cow. He died at the age of 90 and is buried in Bridgeport, PA.

Noah Lewis’ presentation on Ned Hector and the life of African Americans in the Revolutionary War is at one o’clock on Saturday, August 5, while Larry Kidder’s program on Jacob Francis and the life of a free black man during that era is at two o’clock on Sunday, August 6. Both programs are sponsored by Bold Gold Media, and each program is included in the price of admission to the Fort on that day.

For more information on these and other upcoming programs at the Fort, visit thedelawarecompany.org or The Delaware Company’s Facebook page.

Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History is located on the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway at 6615 Route 97 in Narrowsburg. The Fort is open Thursday thru Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last tours at 4 p.m. The Fort is owned by Sullivan County and operated by The Delaware Company.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  


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