From the American Revolution to the Spanish-American War

Who was Salem Poor?

Salem Poor (1747–?) was the first black soldier to win a battle commendation. The recommendation for his acknowledgement was made on December 5, 1775, to the General Court of Massachusetts Bay. It commended Poor for his bravery at the Battle of Charlestown, describing him as “a Brave & gallant Soldier.” The recommendation was signed by fourteen colonial army officers and was entered into court records twice. There is no record as to when or if he received notice of the commendation. The earliest record of Poor appears when he was baptized in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1747. He was an indentured servant until he purchased his freedom in 1769. Poor enlisted in a Massachusetts militia company in April 1775, and on June 17, 1775, fought valiantly at the battle of Bunker Hill, where he wounded a British officer. Other blacks at the battle were Barzillai Lew, Cuff Whittemore, Titus Coburn, Charlestown Eads, Peter Salem, Sampson Taylor, and Caesar Brown. Poor’s military record extends from 1775 to 1780, with only brief absences of no more than a few months at a time. He was with George Washington at Valley Forge, but he is not listed among the five thousand blacks who lost their lives during the Revolutionary War and for whom there is a memorial in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park. He fought in a number of other crucial battles, and was finally given recognition for his contributions to the colonial army on March 25, 1975, when the U.S. Postal Service issued a series of stamps during its Revolutionary War Centennial. The stamp series was entitled “Contributors to the Cause.” A ten-cent stamp recognized “Salem Poor—Gallant Soldier.” The date of Poor’s death is not recorded.


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