Each February, I work on a Black History month project to highlight a local person who you've probably never heard of before. Last year's project was Dr. James Still, the Black Doctor of the Pines (check out that post here if you missed it!).
This year's focus is also about a Burlington County, New Jersey resident and Revolutionary War Soldier, Oliver Cromwell.
Oliver was born in 1752 in Black Horse, NJ (now Columbus). It's believed he was a free from birth, and his ancestry was mixed with White and possibly Indian (side note: I looked up a few different US Census records from his lifetime and his race is listed as either Mulatto or Black depending on the year). Oliver spent his early life working on a farm owned by an uncle but unfortunately, didn't learn to read or write.
Oliver enlisted in the Second New Jersey Regiment in November 1776, and was part of the first group of African Americans to join in the war. At the start of the Revolutionary War, the official policy was that no African Americans would be allowed to enlist. However, this ban was lifted after the British offered freedom to any enslaved Blacks who joined their cause.
During his more than six years of service, Oliver fought in many key battles and milestones of the war, including crossing the Delaware with Washington on Christmas Day, wintering in the harsh conditions at Valley Forge,the Battle of Monmouth, and the final battle of Yorktown. His discharge papers were personally signed by General Washington and he was awarded a "Badge of Merit" ( an early version of the Purple Heart) for his long and dedicated service.
Afterwards, Oliver returned to normal life and fathered 14 children. In 1818 he applied for a military pension for his service under a new law that granted pensions to Revolutionary War veterans in need.His first request was denied, but with the help of a local lawyer and politician wrote wrote letters on his behalf, he second request was approved in 1820 and he was approved to receive a small sum of $96 per year (equivalent to about $2,000 today). Oliver owned a 100 acre farm outside of Burlington, NJ until 1840, when he moved into a home at 114 E Union St, Burlington, NJ.
Oliver loved to tell stories about his time fighting in the Revolutionary War and spoke fondly of General Washington. After his death in 1853 at 100 years old, Oliver was buried at the Broad Street Methodist Church however, his grave was never marked with a headstone and its exact location is unknown. His home at 114 E Union Street is still standing and is a private residence.
I first heard about Oliver Cromwell from the Burlington County Black History tour pamphlet
Revolutionary War Journal is a great source if you are interested in learning more about Oliver's Military service
Crossroads of the American Revolution has an interesting page about Oliver, which mentions some facts I didn't find anywhere else