Oliver Cromwell, a Black soldier who was possibly of mixed heritage that fought in the American Revolutionary War, was honorably discharged and given a Badge Of Merit personally by General George Washington on this day in 1783.
According to records, Cromwell was born May 24, 1752, in what is now known as Columbus, N.J. Not much is known about Cromwell’s early life except that he was born free and was raised as a farmer by his maternal uncle, John Hutchin. Cromwell fought in most of the major war campaigns of the North during the Revolutionary War as part of the New Jersey 2nd Continental Regiment. He was present with General Washington as he crossed in to Delaware. Along with Prince Whipple, another Black soldier, Cromwell was immortalized in a famous painting by Emmanuel Leutze.
Cromwell’s enlistment in to the Continental Army only came way after England offered to free slaves from their patriot masters. Blacks were not seen as equals at the time naturally, but since they were pressed for bodies, the Continental Army opened its ranks. Cromwell fought in major battles in Trenton and Princeton and also participated in the final battle of Yorktown. Unlike many Americans at the time, Cromwell willingly joined the armed forces.
On June 5, 1783, Washington presented Cromwell with discharge papers and the newly forged Badge Of Merit. General Washington praised Cromwell for his service, and he headed in to retirement.
Several years later, he applied for a military pension but was denied due he not being able to read or write. His badge was also taken away from him. Because of his standing in the Burlington community in New Jersey, he was aided by lawyers, judges and politicians.
Cromwell was eventually able to secure a $96 per year pension, which allowed him to purchase a 100-acre farm just outside of Burlington. Cromwell fathered 14 children, seven boys and seven girls. He lived at the farm until 1840 before moving back to Burlington. Cromwell and his family may also have been instrumental in the Underground Railroad movement due, in part, to the large number of free Blacks and Quakers that lived in the region.
Cromwell lived to be 100 years of age, outliving eight of his own children. He passed away on January 24, 1853. His final resting place is largely unknown.