The American cause hung by a thread in the summer of 1781. The British were entrenched in New York, and the main Continental Army commanded by George Washington was incapable of dislodging them. In Virginia a British Army of 7,000 men led by Lord Cornwallis wreaked havoc, opposed only by 900 Continentals led by General Lafayette. Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Assembly had been chased from Richmond and Charlottesville. Supplies to General Nathaniel Greene’s army in South Carolina were cut off.
Washington’s appeals to the states for reinforcements had gone unanswered, and when he decided to march South, to try to entrap Cornwallis, he had only 2,500 able bodied men. They were actually outnumbered by the accompanying French force of 3,000 soldiers.
When they reached Virginia in September of 1781 Cornwallis was holed up at Yorktown. His force had been decimated by malaria, the curse of all Europeans south of the Mason-Dixon line. The rest of tbe history of the Battle of Yorktown is familiar to most literate Americans. The British surrender effectively ended the War of Independence. American sovereignty was born.
The small force of American soldiers who marched south with Washington 239 years ago had very few veterans left from the armies of 1775 to 1780. These original Continentals had served their terms of enlistment, and had returned to their farms and families. Washington took anyone who would serve, and hundreds of free blacks joined the cause, eager for gainful employment. Of the 2500 strong force who arrived with Washington at Yorktown, as many as 20% were free blacks. They had an inherent, genetic advantage over the Europeans. Because their ancestors came from sub-Saharan Africa, they were naturally resistant to malaria, and were healthy able bodied men, fully capable of discharging their duties.
After the war these men established families of their own, and their descendants are a significant portion of today’s African-American population. Some of them are probably part of the Black Lives Matter movement, and want to destroy the monuments to Washington around the country.
Their ancestors, the men who fought under Washington, would be horrified. Like all Revolutionary War veterans, they treasured their memories of service under the Father of their country. They were patriotic Americans, and their progeny should honor and revere them. Even fight for them.
Today, for black Americans to speak up in defense of Washington, and the nation he founded, requires some courage. But our common culture calls on them to speak out. For how can a man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods.