About Salem Poor
- Colony: Massachusetts *Age: 33
- Race: African American *Rank: Private
- Status: free *Position: redoubt
- Unit: Frye/Ames
Salem Poor was born a slave, probably in or around Salem, MA about 1747. His first name most likely comes from where he was born or sold. He belonged to John Poor, Jr., so he took on Poor’s last name. It was common at that time for slaves to be given names in this way. It is believed he was purchased as an infant as part of a dowry. (the gifts given from the woman’s family when she gets married). Legend has it that one of the grandmothers of the bride or groom brought the baby from Salem to Andover, MA on her saddle as she returned to see the ships come in.
Very little is known about Salem Poor’s early life. Poor somehow managed to earn money to buy his own freedom. He most likely took on extra jobs in order to do so. He bought his freedom in 1769 for the price of 27 pounds, about a year’s salary for an average working man at the time. Two years later, in 1771, Salem Poor married Nancy Parker, a maid servant to Capt. James Parker. Nancy was a mulatto, both of Native American and African American blood.
In 1775, at the age of about 28, Poor enlisted in Colonel James Frye’s regiment. On June 16, 1775, Frye’s regiment, along with two others, was ordered to march from Cambridge to Charlestown. There were about 350 men in Frye’s regiment, and, with several hundred men from the other two regiments, the group totaled about 850. Col. James Frye was not feeling well, so Frye’s regiment was led by Doctor James Brickett. After these men had marched to Charlestown, and the officers had chosen Breed’s Hill to fortify, they then were instructed to build a redoubt, or fort, on the top of that hill. They used pickaxes and shovels, and worked quickly and quietly so as not to let the British army know of their plan. Poor probably helped to build the fort.
We know that Salem Poor fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He, along with other men, served at Fort George in upstate New York under Gen. Benedict Arnold in 1776. He returned home in 1777, and rejoined the local militia in Capt. Samuel Johnson’s 1st Andover Company. He joined the Continental Army that same year for a three-year term, which meant that he promised to serve in the army for three years. His unit served at Saratoga, in New York, and spent the winter at Valley Forge, NY. In 1778 he continued to serve “near White Plains” (New York). In 1779 his regiment was stationed at Providence, Rhode Island. We do not know how much longer he lived after the war, when he died or where he was buried.
The most interesting and unusual thing about Salem Poor is what some officers wrote about him just six months after the Battle of Bunker Hill. In December of 1775, fourteen officers who fought at that battle wrote up a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony. In that petition (or letter recognizing Poor’s military service), they said that “in the late Battle at Charlestown,” a man from Colonel Frye’s regiment “behaved like an experienced officer” and that in this man “centers a brave and gallant soldier.” The petition does not tell us exactly what he did to deserve this praise from the officers. It does tell us, though, that Salem Poor was a brave soldier, and a hero of this battle. No other soldier from the American Revolution received such recognition.
Source: Biographies of Patriots of Color at The Battle of Bunker Hill