Private William Williams

By | Sep 13, 2017

William Williams enlisted in the U.S. Army on April 14, 1814. He was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment. The unit was assigned to Fort McHenry in early September of 1814. Williams had his leg blown off in the British Attack on Fort McHenry. The same attack that prompted Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that became the United States’ National Anthem. Williams died of his wounds 2 months later. William Williams could have been a lost foot note in US history. The reason he’s not. William Williams was a black man.

Williams was not the only black man to serve in the military in 1814. There were a number of free blacks serving as sailors. This was a time in history in many areas, including Maryland, many blacks were slaves. And slaves could not serve in the military since they could not make a legal contract. Only Williams was not a free black. He was a runaway slave.

The 21 year old Williams had run away from his owner, Benjamin Oden, a Maryland slave owner. William Williams was the name that he took upon his escape. There was a $40 reward for his returned. The notice was for “NEGRO FREDERICK” who “Sometimes calls himself FREDERICK HALL.” His description was “a bright mulatto…and so fair as to show freckles”.

Apparently he was light enough that the recruiting officer thought he was white and never questioned his right to enlist. Recruits were paid a $50 enlistment bounty and $8 a month.

The bombardment of Fort McHenry began on the evening of September 13th and lasted into the 14th of 1814. As we all know by dawn’s early light the flag was still there.

Williams service as well as all of the black men who served their county is remembered with a monument at Fort McHenry.


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