On May 28, 1777, a man named Gad agreed to serve in the Revolutionary War in exchange for his freedom. The entry in the land record book simply says,
This may Certify that Gad my Negro Servant just purchased … I do discharge from my Service and shall have no demands on him myself, nor his heirs Exr nor assigns but shall be free to all intents and purposes in case I can be free from him on condition he shall serve in the Continental Army during the War
One of the witnesses noted that he understood that Gad had enlisted that same day with Captain Prentice’s company.
What we learn from this document is that the slaveholder almost certainly purchased Gad in order to have him serve as a substitute in the army, though this document doesn’t actually say that. Presumably, he consulted Gad in advance about the idea – it would hardly do him any good to spend the money and then find that the enslaved man refused to join the army, even in exchange for freedom.
After diligent searching through Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution, 1775-1783, I determined that Captain Prentice was probably part of Connecticut’s Sixth Regiment. And there, on page 214, was this entry:
So he did join, and he served almost two years. According to my cursory research (thank you, Wikipedia), the Sixth Regiment traveled to Peekskill, New York in May, and stayed at West Point over the winter of 1777-1778. They worked on fortifications, including one called the “Meigs Redoubt,” probably named after their colonel.
The next summer, the Sixth joined Washington’s main army in White Plains, New York. Then their brigade spent the winter of 1778-1779 at Redding, Connecticut, where Major General Israel Putnam (of Connecticut) took command of the troops there. In early 1779, they camped across the Hudson from West Point.
And there, on March 16, Gad Stone deserted. He missed, I can’t help but note, the Connecticut troops’ attempt to respond to Tryon’s raid (they missed him) and their successful storming of the British fort at New York’s Stony Point in July.
But why did Gad desert? I don’t know. As can be seen from the book snippet, he was far from the only Revolutionary War soldier to desert. Reasons for desertion were surely as many as the men involved – dislike of military life, conflict with officers, the need to help family back home, or whatever.
I would have to dig a lot deeper to find any more details about his service. It seems unlikely that I could learn anything about his life after the military – if he had any sense, he would have carefully avoided the slaveholder he was substituting for and changed his name.
But even so, he was a free man, living under whatever name he chose, wherever he chose.