Oliver Cromwell: An African American Revolutionary War Hero

Oliver Cromwell was no ordinary soldier of the American Revolution. This military hero’s discharge was signed by General George Washington “stating that he was entitled to wear the badges of honor by reason of his honorable services.”

Cromwell’s story first appeared in a newspaper interview conducted when he was 100 years old by a reporter of the Burlington Gazette (Burlington, New Jersey) in 1905, which was reprinted by the Trenton Evening Times. As the newspaper article noted: “though feeble, his lips trembling at every word, when he spoke of [General George] Washington his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.”

The archive of old newspapers in GenealogyBank is packed with thousands of these firsthand accounts of military service in the Revolutionary War, adding a personal touch to the facts of many of these early American military battles.

In that 1905 interview, Cromwell told of his Revolutionary War service crossing the Delaware “with his beloved commander…on the memorable Christmas night [in] 1776.”

The old newspaper article adds that Cromwell: “took part in the battle of Trenton, and helped to ‘knock the British about lively at Princeton.’ He also fought at the Revolutionary War battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Monmouth and Springfield, where he was severely wounded, and saw the last man killed at York town.”

interview with African American Revolutionary War veteran Oliver Cromwell, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 11 April 1905

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 11 April 1905, page 5

A few days after Cromwell’s death, the local Burlington Gazette published an editorial calling for the erection of a monument in honor of the Revolutionary War hero.

“And thus, one by one, the men who purchased with their blood the liberty we now enjoy, are going off the stage…We suggest whether it would not be proper to erect some suitable monument over his grave…it will be pleasant to know that the people of Burlington felt sufficient interest in him, to mark the spot where his ashes are buried.”

The reprint in the Trenton Evening Times notes: “Unfortunately no such monument was ever erected and there is nothing to indicate the last resting place of Oliver Cromwell.”

Oliver Cromwell lived in a different time and place, and life was more difficult than it would have been for him now. He was African American, one of the many that served in the American Revolution. Though honored by General Washington, his pension was revoked by a local pension agent. “Tears fell from his eyes when he told of his discharge being taken from him by the pension agent.”

In 1984, this plaque was placed on the property where his home once stood.

plaque indicating spot where African American Revolutionary War veteran Oliver Cromwell's house once stood

Photo from the official Burlington County, New Jersey, website

His grave has been located in the cemetery at Broad Street Methodist Church in Burlington, New Jersey. The local historical society was named in his honor in 1983.

Oliver Cromwell (1752-1853), one of “the men who purchased with their blood the liberty we now enjoy,” was “respected by our citizens” then and remembered to this day.

See what other American Revolutionary War veterans’ stories you can find in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives. There are many more stories of Revolutionary War heroes like Oliver Cromwell waiting for you to discover.

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Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

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