Jan. 8, 1815
A U.S. army that included Black and Choctaw soldiers helped defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans.
While peace negotiations to end the War of 1812 were underway, the British carried out a raid in hopes of capturing New Orleans. After the British captured a gunboat flotilla, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson put the city under martial law.
Despite being outnumbered, the U.S. army of about 2,000 (including a battalion of free Black men, mostly refugees from Santo Domingo, and up to 60 Choctaw Indians) defeated the British.
After the victory, Andrew Jackson honored these soldiers of color with a proclamation: “I invited you to share in the perils and to divide the glory of your white countrymen. I expected much from you, for I was not uninformed of those qualities which must render you so formidable to an invading foe. I knew that you could endure hunger and thirst and all the hardships of war. I knew that you loved the land of your nativity, and that, like ourselves, you had to defend all that is most dear to man – But you surpass my hopes. I have found in you, united to these qualities, that noble enthusiasm which impels to great deeds.”
Prior to the battle, Jackson had promised Black soldiers pay, acres of property and freedom to those who were enslaved. That inspired James Roberts to fight as hard as he could in the Battle of New Orleans.
“In hope of freedom,” he said, “we would run through a troop and leap over a wall.”
Although Roberts would lose a finger and suffer a serious wound to the head, the pledge proved hollow for him, just as it was in the Revolutionary War when he had been promised freedom and instead was separated from his wife and children and sold for $1,500.
The memoir he self-published in 1858 is once again available for sale.
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