Historical Markers
Edward Hector Historical Marker
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Edward Hector

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Intersection SR 3016 and 3013 (Fayette and Hector Sts.), Conshohocken

Dedication Date:
September 19, 1967

Behind the Marker

The American Revolution exposed out a contradiction at the heart of American life. How could a people fighting for their own liberty continue to enslave others? Like the other twelve original colonies, Pennsylvania legally sanctioned the institution of slavery, and despite Quaker opposition, which led to the Philadelphia Meeting's formal condemnation of slaveholding in 1758, slavery was widespread in the colony. In the late 1760s perhaps one quarter of all Philadelphia households had slaves. During the War for Independence, close to 7,000 slaves lived in Pennsylvania. During the war, growing numbers of Pennsylvanians, especially in Philadelphia, manumitted (freed) their slaves and embraced abolitionism, even before the British occupied Philadelphia on September 26, 1777.

Believing that a British victory would lead to their own freedom, many Pennsylvania slaves fled to the British lines to join the fight against the Americans. A number of free blacks, however, joined the American forces in the hope that their fighting for independence would accelerate Pennsylvania's abolition of slavery and improve their own status.

Of the nearly 230,000 soldiers who fought in the Continental Army, no more than five or six thousand were black. The small percentage of black Continentals was due, in part, to Britain's promise of freedom to any slave who enlisted with the Redcoats and, in part, to significant opposition within the Continental Army's officer corps to arming slaves. Only after the third year of the war, when the army was in severe need of manpower, were African Americans widely recruited. They enlisted in the Continental Army, or became active behind the lines as laborers, messengers, or guides in the hope that their efforts would be rewarded by a new society that recognized their liberty and equality.

Edward Hector, a free black man who served in the Third Pennsylvania Artillery, may be symbolic of the black Continental soldier, but he certainly was not typical. Hector served in an artillery unit, which manned cannons. The overwhelming majority of black soldiers were infantrymen, soldiers armed and equipped for service on foot. Hector also is distinguished from so many other African Americans in the Continental Army by the simple fact that we know his identity. Many of the available muster roles do not identify the soldier by race, so it is difficult to determine the actual number of blacks who served in the Continental Army. Those who do appear on the roles are in most cases listed simply as "Negro Man" or "Negro by first name." That Edward Hector is known at all is due, in part, to an obituary, which appeared in the Norristown Register of January 15, 1834, which reads:

"Edward Hector - Died on Friday the 3rd of January 1834, aged about 90 years. Edward Hector, a colored man and veteran of the Revolution. In that cause he risked all he had to risk - his life; and he survived the event for a long lapse of years, to witness the prosperity of a country whose independence he had so nobly assisted to achieve and which neglected him in his old age."

Hector's celebrity is also the result of his exceptional bravery during the Battle of Brandywine, where he reportedly disobeyed orders to abandon his artillery wagon during the army's retreat and courageously brought his horses and ammunition with him on the escape toward Chester. To honor his service, the Pennsylvania legislature awarded Hector's family a special pension of forty dollars in 1827. Later, the town of Conshohocken would also name a street after him.

The service of African Americans in Continental Army made clear to many white Americans the anomaly of a slaveholding people fighting for liberty. In 1780 Pennsylvania became the first state to abolish slavery. But while independence from imperial rule brought the promise of freedom, it did not result in equality of condition or opportunity, even for those who fought for the patriot cause. The gradual abolition law freed African Americans only once they reached the age of twenty eight, and those born after the date of freedom had to serve a lengthy apprenticeship. Thus slavery continued to exist in Pennsylvania into the 1840s. After American victory in the War for Independence, Pennsylvania's African Americans' long, difficult struggle for civil rights had barely begun.
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