Peter Salem

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Peter Salem (circa 1750–August 16, 1816) was an African American who served as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War from Massachusetts. Born into slavery in Framingham, Massachusetts, he was freed by a later master, Major Lawson Buckminster, to serve in the local militia. He enlisted in the Continental Army, serving for nearly five years during the war. Afterward, he married and worked as a cane weaver. A monument was erected to him in the late 19th century at his gravesite in Framingham.

Early life[edit]

Peter Salem was born into slavery c.1750 to a slave mother in Framingham, Massachusetts; their master was Jeremiah Belknap. Salem was later sold to Lawson Buckminster, and worked in a variety of ways for him. Buckminster, a major in the Continental Army, gave Salem his freedom in 1775 in order to enlist in the patriot militia during the American Revolutionary War.[1][2]

Military service[edit]

Peter Salem enlisted in the Continental Army and took part in the battle of Concord on April 19, 1775. He appears on the roll of Captain Simon Edgell's company of militia from Framingham as having served 4 days from April 19, 1775.[3] On April 26, he enlisted in Captain Drury's company of Colonel John Nixon's 6th Massachusetts Regiment.

Battle of Bunker Hill[edit]

Salem served with his regiment in the Battle of Bunker Hill. According to Samuel Swett, who had chronicled the battle, Salem killed British Marine Major John Pitcairn with his last shot (colonial forces were short on ammunition).[4] Other free African Americans in the battle numbered about a dozen, including Barzillai Lew, Salem Poor, Titus Coburn, Alexander Ames, Cato Howe, and Seymour Burr.

Salem reenlisted for one year on January 1, 1776 in the 4th Continental Regiment. On January 1, 1777, he re-enlisted for three years in the 6th Massachusetts Regiment under Colonel Thomas Nixon (brother of Colonel John Nixon). He was honorably discharged from the Continental Army on December 31, 1779 with four years and eight months service.[5]

In addition to Bunker Hill, Salem also fought at the battles of Saratoga and Stony Point.[4][6]

Later life and death[edit]

After his discharge, Salem lived in Salem, Massachusetts. He married Katy Benson in September 1783. He later built a cabin near Leicester, where he worked as a cane weaver. On August 16, 1816 at the age of 66, he died in the poorhouse at Framingham. He was buried in the Old Burying Ground in Framingham. In 1882, the town of Framingham erected a gravestone monument in his memory.

Representation in other media[edit]


  1. ^ "Peter Salem". American National Biography Online. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  2. ^ Barry, William (1847). A History of Framingham, Massachusetts: Including the Plantation, from 1640 to the Present Time, with an Appendix, Containing a Notice of Sudbury and Its First Proprietors; Also, a Register of the Inhabitants of Framingham Before 1800, with Genealogical Sketches. Framingham, Massachusetts: J. Monroe and Company. p. 160. Retrieved 2013-08-13. 
  3. ^ History of Framingham, p. 278.
  4. ^ a b David Brion Davis, "It Wasn't Peter Salem" (Ltr to the Editors), New York Review of Books, 18 May 1989, accessed 1 March 2015
  5. ^ Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War. Vol. 13, pp. 743–744.
  6. ^ Sidney and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989 revised edition.
  7. ^ Sidney and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989 revised edition


External links[edit]