Out & About: Talk examines the impact of Black soldiers at the Battle of Bennington

  • A young Black man believed to be Pompey Woodward sits astride a horse as he leads Tory prisoners of war after the Battle of Bennington in a mural painted by Leroy Williams and housed by the Bennington Museum. (Photograph courtesy of the Bennington Museum)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2021 10:31:17 PM
Modified: 1/9/2021 10:30:59 PM

At the Bennington Museum, there’s a mural depicting the famed Battle of Bennington from the American Revolution; one part shows a Black rider on horseback leading away loyalist soldiers taken prisoner during the battle, which was in Walloomsac, N.Y., about 10 miles from its Vermont namesake.

The memorial is said to show Pompey Woodward, who was around 14 or 15 at the time, and he is one of numerous Black Americans who took part in the battle that prevented hundreds of British troops from taking control of Bennington, as well as the vital supplies that came with it.

At the conclusion of the daylong battle on Aug. 16, 1777 — fought by a coalition of troops and volunteers under the command of Brig. General John Stark, of New Hampshire, and later reinforced by Col. Seth Warren and the Green Mountain Boys — hundreds of prisoners had been captured.

“Only this time, the man on the horse leading them away was a Black man,” said Phil Holland, a teacher and author who will give talk titled “The Black Presence at the Battle of Bennington” from 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20, during a Zoom presentation hosted by the Hartland Public Library. People can register at hartlandlibraryvt.org/calendar.

Holland began researching the role of Black Americans during the Battle of Bennington three years ago after then-Bennington Rep. Kiah Morris resigned in the face of persistent racial harassment by a self-described white nationalist and others. Holland had authored a book about the battle, and a friend, the late historian Lion Miles, had mentioned that a Black solider, Sipp Ives, was among the American casualties.

“I had never heard of or thought to investigate Black participation at the Battle of Bennington,” Holland recalled. “It led me to attempt to understand race relations and the racial realities of 18th-century New England and the Revolutionary War.”

Ives and the other Black soldiers present were part of the troops led by Warren.

“As with so many African American stories in American history and especially in those days, information is scant,” Holland said. “It’s the military records that remain.”

From those military records, Holland was able to find out that Ives signed up to serve for three years in the winter of 1777 in what was then New Providence, Mass. (The town is now called Cheshire.) Ives’ age was not recorded on his enlistment papers or his death certificate.

Other information came from Army pension reports and town histories, which is how Holland was able to identify brothers Charles and Simeon Grandison. Sometimes, the names of the soldiers can provide clues. Ives’ first name, Sipp, was short for Scipio Africanus, a Roman general, Holland said. Slaveowners often named enslaved people after Romans.

“Sometimes the names are revealing, sometimes they’re not,” Holland said. “Those figures have been in the shadows and now they’re getting a bit of sunlight as they should.”

During his talk, Holland will also discuss the other ways Black people impacted the Battle of Bennington, some rooted more in subjugation by whites than in patriotism.

John Langdon, who was white, was a rich New Hampshire merchant, statesman and future governor who helped fund Stark’s troops and even provided rum to the soldiers. Langdon built his fortune on trade with the West Indies, running ships with U.S.-made supplies like pork and barrel staves out of Portsmouth and returning with rum and molasses produced using slave labor, Holland said — the same Tobago rum Langdon sold to finance Stark’s troops at the battle.

“It’s a way of seeing this local, though very consequential military contest, in global terms,” Holland said. “Where did the soldiers come from? Where did their funding come from? Where did their political beliefs come from?”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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