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225 Years After Yorktown and We're Still Not Honoring the Virginia Black Soldiers Who Fought There?

October 16, 2005, will mark the kickoff of the 225th anniversary of the Siege of Yorktown, one of the deciding battles of the Revolutionary War. The Yorktown Battle was fought after a defeat at the Battle of Camden South Carolina, by the British General Cornwallis. Fresh from his victory, he headed for Yorktown, where he was soundly defeated. In our family Camden and Yorktown are not just historical events. We commemorate them because our ancestors fought in both battles. Charles and Ambrose Lewis fought at Camden and Rawley Pinn, John Redcross, and Benjamin Evans fought at Yorktown.

They were not just soldiers, they were Natives and Free Blacks, who distinguished themselves on the battlefield. Rawley Pinn marched with his unit from Amherst County under the command of Major William Cabell Junior. Rawley was with Colonial Daniel Gaines's unit, as were John Redcross and Benjamin Evans. They were in the Second Virginia Calvary, and they left Amherst County on June 21, 1781. Half way to Yorktown, they joined up with the unit of the Marquis De Lafayette. Together the units marched into history, by way of the Siege of Yorktown. The men received little public recognition. Their names were listed in the Lynchburg News & Advance in 1884 (Amherst County, Virginia) and in a booklet published by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The article in the Lynchburg News, which ran on Thursday, May 22, 1884, listed the names of soldiers who served out of Amherst County. Appended to the list was this statement:

In every war there are and always has been, thousands of privates who suffered or bled or died after patriotic sacrifice and great individual deeds, whose names as soldiers are unknown outside of the humble family. Often these men had nothing to fight for, yet they periled life and limb and often lost, for their cause, their flag..., Soon those so near us will be forgotten as the Revolutionary-great., unrecognized, have been. The old County of Amherst, then comprising Amherst and Nelson, furnished many men to face disease and death in the Revolutionary War, and they came willingly, were patriots-refused pay by British gold and place and pay, and any one who gathers the names of such patriots in any war, does a high, patriotic deed.

The article does not indicate what happened to the men. It is almost certain that they did not receive veterans' benefits or land bounties. It is a safe bet that all of the men were deceased by the time this article ran in 1884.

The roster containing the soldiers names was buried in the records of William Cabell at the College of William & Mary's Swem Library. That is where they were when I found them in 1999, and submitted them to a historian at Colonial Williamsburg. After proving that I was a descendant of Rawley Pinn, an event was scheduled for September 30, 2000. The event was to commemorate Native and Black soldiers (and all in between), who fought at Yorktown. I submitted a copy of the official roster to Colonial Yorktown, and believed the names would be added to the official database. Yet, this is not what happened. The database to this day does not include the names of those brave men.

The celebration that is scheduled to kick off at Colonial Yorktown, on October 16th, may include America's first all-black unit, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, but it will not include the Natives and Blacks who lived in Virginia. It is a sad footnote to American History that we are still struggling in 2005 to honor those people of color, who fought in a battle that is almost 225 years old.

In July of 2004, Colonial Yorktown allowed the Nazi Party to march on the Battlefield at Yorktown. Yet, there is hesitation when it is time to recognize those who risked their lives during the Revolution. If we cannot get that history right, what are we going to say about the war in Vietnam, The Gulf War, or the war in Iraq?

We worry because our children are not being properly educated, and most cannot tell the difference between a continent and a country. Yet, here is the National Park Services, a branch of the U.S. government missing the chance to set the record straight. America is a diverse society, and has been from its' inception. It should not take an Act of Congress to honor our heroes. What happened to the inclusive government that honored the contributions of all of its citizens? Has it gone the way of the dinosaur?

Until every person who participated in the Siege of Yorktown is honored there is no cause for celebration. As Americans we should be hanging our heads in shame.