History and the Black American Revolutionary War experience came alive Saturday (Feb. 19) when Noah Lewis portrayed Ned Hector, a Pennsylvania hero.
Hector was “a man of color,” a freeman and one of many black men and women, primarily from the North, who fought for freedom in the American Revolution. He was a member of Captain Hercules Courtney’s Company of Colonel Proctor’s 3rd Pennsylvania Artillery Regiment.
Hector served Washington in the disastrous Battle of Brandywine Sept. 11, 1777 at Chadd’s Ford as a teamster and bombardier. The Continental Army was almost destroyed that day by British General Howe’s flanking movement in the afternoon.
As they were being surrounded by British and Hessian troops, Hector’s commander ordered everyone to abandon their equipment and positions then reform in Chester. While others abandoned the field, Hector refused to let his team fall into British hands.
At great danger to himself, he gathered up the weapons that littered the area, loaded them onto his wagon, and dashed through the enemy’s lines.
“The enemy shall not have my team! I will save the horses or perish myself!” he shouted.
Lewis told the audience that was likely due to the fact that the team and wagon were his personal property. To lose them would have meant a loss of his livelihood.
Little is known of Hector’s later war experiences and his life in the Philadelphia area. While not awarded a pension like other Revolutionary War veterans, he was granted a one-time donation of $40 from a “grateful” Pennsylvania Legislature. He died in 1834 at the age of 90.
Noah Lewis mixed the biography of Hector in with issues that confronted black and white Americans during the War. At times humorous, like discussing the bathing – or lack thereof – of the colonists, he also engaged the audience by having them participate in artillery practice. He heightened the experience by attacking the bombardiers with a bayonet affixed to his rifle.
“African American history is American history,” Lewis said. “No matter what your heritage, you all share in African American history. These people are part of your history.”
“I’m telling these stories not just for people of color,” Lewis said in a published interview. “Most white people have never heard of these black heroes. So maybe by telling these stories, I’m breaking some stereotypes, building some bridges, and creating some ties among people.”
A lot of other people and groups have been omitted from history, he added
“This is not a problem of race,” he said, “It’s a problem of the human condition, of economics.”
His teachable moment lasted more than an hour and about 100 people participated in both Lewis’s presentation and other parts of the program, including a performance by Toms River High School North’s “nStep” and a Soul Food Tasting that was cosponsored by the Toms River NAACP and the library’s Good for the Soul Committee.
An 8-photo slideshow of the event can be found on our Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oceancountylibrary/sets/72157626003479319/show/