The use of slaves as substitute soldiers for New England’s white citizens in the Revolution was duplicated during the War Between the States. As Northern governors feared election disaster should a federal draft be imposed, they gathered captured slaves in the South to be enlisted and counted against State troop quotas demanded by Lincoln. Like the Connecticut bill below, the Confederate Congress passed a bill providing for black soldiers in early 1865, but only after the owners themselves emancipated them.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Enticing Substitute Soldiers for New England
“The exigencies of war had moved both Connecticut and Rhode Island in the direction of emancipation, and both States considered enlisting slaves in order to relieve wartime troop shortages. In Connecticut, although an actual enlistment bill presented in the spring of 1777 failed to be enacted, the legislature passed a bill that fall allowing slave owners to free healthy slaves and indemnifying from financial responsibility.
Slave owners used the provisions of this bill to entice their slaves to serve as substitutes for them in the Continental Army in exchange for their freedom, and several hundred took advantage of the opportunity. In 1778 Rhode Island actually implemented an enlistment act that offered State-financed compensated emancipation: slaves were offered manumission and soldiers’ benefits in exchange for their enlistment, and slave owners were compensated by the State up to 120 [Pounds] for each enlisted slave.
There was considerable opposition to this law; in fact, with fewer than a hundred slaves actually emancipated under its provisions . . . In 1779 and again in 1780, bills for gradual emancipation failed to pass the Connecticut legislature. In 1779, Rhode Island did ban the sale of Rhode Island slaves out of State, but no further efforts to engage the slavery issue were made during the war.
In 1783 a fresh campaign to end slavery and the slave trade was mounted in Rhode Island by Moses Brown, Quaker convert and exasperated brother of wealthy slave traders Nicholas and John Brown. He produced countless anti-slavery articles and pamphlets . . . But with the American slave trade centered in Rhode Island and slavers forming the nucleus of Newport society, in February 1784 the legislature defeated this abolition bill; it passed another that stood silent on the issue of the slave trade but did provide for gradual emancipation.”
(Disowning Slavery, Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780-1860, Joanne Pope Melish, Cornell University Press, 1998, pp. 67-68)