This historical reenactment of the NJ highlights a little-known story. Now her face is exposed.

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As a black American, Algernon Ward says that wearing a colonial soldier’s uniform is a calling.

He and his compatriots – reenactors who come together to tell the stories of soldiers of the past – describe the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, widely regarded as the first black battalion in U.S. military history.

“They fought for most of the duration of the Revolution and they were there for the ultimate victory at Yorktown,” Ward said recently, as he stood with fellow historic performer Chuck Monroe in Locust Hill Cemetery in Trenton, the city’s largest and oldest African-American burial ground. ground.

“These men risked their lives to establish this United States of America, so putting on their uniforms and telling their story isn’t just a hobby. It’s a mission, and it’s to tell the story of all of America’s Founding Fathers.

As part of the Patriots’ Week celebration of American history, the Battle of Trenton has been re-enacted, starting at the Battle of Trenton monument and ending at Mill Hill Park, in 2019. Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Trenton’s pageant, Chuck Monroe, is held at Locust Hill Cemetery in Trenton on October 8. Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Calling “a privilege and a pleasure” to continue to help highlight the previously ignored role that people of color, both free and slaves, played in the founding of America, Ward himself now has a new and unique place in telling this story.

Born and raised in Trenton, he regularly gives active performances as a Colonial Soldier, Civil War Soldier, or as Needham Roberts, also known as the “Harlem Hellfighter” of WWI. But Ward’s own likeness is now immortalized, thanks to his inclusion in a recent painting by famous traditional academic realist painter Don Troiani, titled “Brave Men Never Fought”.

The artwork depicts black and Native American troops in the ranks of the Continental Army as they march past Independence Hall en route to eventual victory at Yorktown.

Ward made a proud member of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment to the front line. He said he was “over the moon” that his likeness was included in the painting, which was commissioned by the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia (where it is now on display) and funded by the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail of the National Park Service.

Detail from a recent painting by Don Troiani titled “Brave Men as Ever Fought”, which bears a resemblance to historical re-enactor Algernon Ward, of Trenton. Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The special exhibition “Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War” opened on October 16 at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Speaking of the modern recognition that people of color were instrumental in the founding of this nation, Ward said, “It’s a reckoning with history that has to happen in the United States in order for us to be. on solid foundations. “

“We have to look history straight in the eye and then make our decision on what to think about it. We must also avoid the temptation to assess people in the current context.

Ward questioned, for example, what he learned about the first President George Washington in school.

“They didn’t mention that he had … slaves, that he resisted the blacks in the army and then finally he gave in.”

Washington’s shift in mentality, Ward said, came after an English proclamation in 1775 promising freedom to the slaves of American revolutionaries who left their owners and joined the royal forces, becoming black loyalists.

“And by the end of the war, he (Washington) had completely changed his perspective on slavery and in fact when he died he freed his slaves,” Ward said.

Washington was the only slave founding father to do so.

“Now is all of this diminishing George Washington?” Ward asked. “No it’s not, that just tells the truth, of the story. And you can still, after all this, say that he is the father of our country. … He is the essential American. Without it, there probably wouldn’t be a United States, so you can tell the truth and treat it in factual terms. “

A Hessian flag tassel from one of the three regiments captured at the Battle of Trenton on display at the Museum of the American Revolution. Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Re-enactments of Trenton Algernon Ward, left, and Chuck Monroe approach Trenton’s Locust Hill Cemetery, the city’s largest and oldest African American cemetery. Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

“Brave Men as Ever Fought” is part of a special exhibition that opened on October 16 at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, “Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War”.

The exhibition will combine Troiani’s works of art with artefacts that inspired or appear in his paintings and will illuminate the story of each scene. The 40 items on display include weapons, military equipment, textiles, manuscripts and more, which are on loan from Troiani’s personal collection, the museum collection, and other lenders.

“This scene (” Brave Men as Ever Fought “) was recalled by an elderly man named James Forten.… He spoke about the scene in a letter he wrote in 1831 to his abolitionist friend and colleague, William Lloyd Garrison ”Said Matthew Skic, curator of the museum’s exhibits, recently as he put the finishing touches to the exhibit.

“Forten reflected on how men of color, men of African descent, men of Native American descent had fought for this country to create it during the War of Independence as soldiers in the Continental Army. , on ships and militias. “

Skic added that Forten remembered them in his writings as “brave men like never before” and that “These men and their descendants deserved all the rights and freedoms promised in the Declaration of Independence.”

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Michael Mancuso can be reached at [email protected].


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