Peter Salem Facts: An American Revolutionary You Should Know!

Martha Martins
Nov 03, 2023 By Martha Martins
Originally Published on Feb 08, 2022
A small town named Framingham

Peter Salem was one of the first Black soldiers to fight in the American War of Independence.

Peter Salem was born on October 1, 1750, in Framingham, Massachusetts. Peter Salem was one of the first known Black patriots to fight in the battle of freedom in America against the British colonizers, after the French and Indian Wars.

It is estimated that more than 5,000 Black soldiers had participated in the revolutionary battle for independence. Peter Salem was known to fight alongside martyrs like Crispus Attucks and Salem Poor, at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

It is believed that Peter Salem had attacked a British major, killing him in the battle, which spurred the revolutionaries to fight with confidence. The sudden blow also gave the militants time to rearm and assemble themselves. Due to Salem's contribution to the American Revolution, he has been honored and given a place in American history.

Read on to know more about the Black patriot who is considered to be responsible for killing Major John Pitcairn.

The Early Life Of Peter Salem

Peter Salem was born into a family of slaves who lived in a small town named Framingham, Massachusetts in 1750. There is not a lot of recorded evidence that goes into detail about Salem’s early life, but it is known that he was owned initially by Captain Jeremiah Belknap.

There, he spent most of his childhood working on his owner’s farm. It is believed that Peter Salem received his name from Belknap after his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts.

A few years later, Belknap sold the now 25-year-old Salem to Major Lawson Buckminster. At the time, recruiting slaves into the military was unlawful, hence Major Lawson Buckminster emancipated Salem so that he could enlist himself. Peter Salem later enlisted as one of the Massachusetts Minutemen, who were a group of volunteers ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

Peter Salem's Military Service

After being freed from slavery, Peter Salem joined Captain Simon Edgell’s militia company on April 19, 1775. Four days later, Salem enlisted in Captain Thomas Drury’s company of Colonel John Nixon’s 6th Massachusetts Regiment.

Salem reenlisted in the 4th Continental Regiment at the beginning of 1776 and, when that enlistment was over, Salem reenlisted in the 6th Massachusetts Regiment of Colonel John Nixon.

Salem served in the Continental Army for almost five years, until the end of the war from 1775 - 1780. He was discharged honorably on December 31, 1779.

The Famous Battle Fight By Peter Salem

Peter Salem spent almost five years fighting in the revolutionary war of his country. He was a part of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which took place on April 19, 1775.

The British were capturing Lexington, Massachusetts, in order to destroy the Americans' weapons and ammunition to make them weaker. There, the minutemen held the British back by opening fire on them and attacking while the British tried to reach Concord. The minutemen attacked the British soldiers from behind the trees and walls as the British soldiers fought for cover.

Being outnumbered, the British forces had to retreat back to Lexington where, along with other British soldiers, they marched towards Boston.

In Boston, the British Army came to the realization that in order to strengthen their hold over Boston, they must capture high places like Dorchester heights and Charlestown peninsula. This information reached the American militants, who immediately took action by attempting to fortify Bunker’s Hill, which was the highest point of Charlestown peninsula.

But, due to an apparent misunderstanding, American soldiers fortified Breed’s Hill instead, which was noticed by the British forces who moved to attack immediately.

As such, the Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place at Breed’s hill, where several American troops from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut fought with the British soldiers, regardless of being outnumbered, ill-equipped and untrained. As well as Peter Salem, there were many other Black soldiers fighting for liberation.

These included Titus Coburn, Salem Poor, and Seymour Burr.

When the American troops were on the verge of defeat, Major John Pitcairn declared the British Army’s victory and demanded the American troops surrender. At this time, it is believed that Peter Salem came forward and fired his musket at Major Pitcairn, leading to his death.

However, several records claim that more than one person had fired at Major John Pitcairn while some suggest that it was not Peter Salem who fired at the major at all.

Although, regardless of whoever was responsible for Major Pitcairn’s death, this action was definitely responsible for boosting the morale of American revolutionary fighters, inspiring them to keep rebelling, even though, in the end, the British controlled the Charleston Peninsula after the Bunker Hill battle.

Peter Salem fought in the Battle of Saratoga and Stony Point, which took place in 1777. This battle is considered one of the first major victories in the American Revolution, because the American troops battled furiously, leading British Major General Burgoyne to surrender on October 17, 1777.

The Death Of Peter Salem

Peter Salem led a relatively quiet life after his discharge from the military. He built a small cabin in Leicester, Massachusetts. There, he married Katy Benson in 1783. Peter Salem was a cane weaver for most of his life after discharging, where he supported himself by making baskets of cane and bottoms of chairs.

Sadly, Peter Salem died in Framingham Poorhouse, which was a government-run facility for the Salem poor, needy or dependant people. He died on August 16, 1816, at the age of 66.

He was buried in the Old Burying Ground. At the time, it was a true honor and recognition for a Black soldier and former slave to be buried at the Old Burying Ground, even if his grave was isolated from others. In 1882, a grave monument was erected in honor of Peter Salem by his hometown, Framingham.

One of his life’s most famous moments, when Salem supposedly shot Major Pitcairn and the death of General Warren, has been painted by John Trumbull in his famous painting named 'The Battle of Bunker Hill', which is exhibited in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Written by Martha Martins

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha Martins picture

Martha MartinsBachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha is a full-time creative writer, content strategist, and aspiring screenwriter who communicates complex thoughts and ideas effectively. She has completed her Bachelor's in Linguistics from Nasarawa State University. As an enthusiast of public relations and communication, Martha is well-prepared to substantially impact your organization as your next content writer and strategist. Her dedication to her craft and commitment to delivering high-quality work enables her to create compelling content that resonates with audiences.

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