Quamino

Some say Quamino was on his porch, enjoying his corn cob pipe, when the soldiers came. Other say Quamino met the soldiers, offering his services to the commanding officer. In either case, his offer that late December is well known: He would lead the soldiers by a little known trail through the swamp and behind rebel lines.

Although the rebel force was small, their fortifications were problematic, and it was likely that reinforcements were on the way and would be in place before their own reinforcements could arrive. If the could go through the seemingly impenetrable swamp and attack behind rebel lines now, they could probably take the city.

How the gold coin figured in all this is a question. Most stories go that the commanding officer offered the coin for Quamino’s services. Other say that Quamino told the commanding officer that he was doing this out of loyalty to the governor, who he served, and for hopes of a different sort of compensation. Whether it was for money or not, his goal was ultimately the same. And the gold coin, worth around $15,000 in today’s money, would have furthered that goal considerably.

What is known is that Quamino led the soldiers through the swamp along the trail. When they emerged, they were behind rebel lines.

The plan was a success. The soldiers took the rebel positions and the entire city fell. The city would remain out of rebel hands for the rest of the war.

History is full of might-have-beens. What if Quamino had not shown them the way? Would the city have remained in rebel hand, or fallen later? There’s no way to know.

As for Quamino, either the governor honored his wish or he put that gold coin to good use. Some stories say that with the gold sovereign and other funds he earned, he was able to buy not only his own freedom, but that of his wife and entire family. For Quamino Dolly, nicknamed Quash, was a slave owned by James Wright, the last British governor of Georgia. He, his family, and descendants would remain in Savannah years afterward as freemen.

We used to learn about Quash Dolly in school. There’s scant mention of him now. Today more people today know the name Crispus Attucks than Quash Dolly. Perhaps it’s because Crispus Attucks, the black man who is counted as the first casualty of the American Revolution, died on the patriot side. Quash Dolly had aided the British, and through his help the Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell defeated Major General Robert Howe, and took Savannah from the patriots.

Maybe, in the 1970s, this came to be seen as a story that put blacks in a negative light. I really don’t know. One day the story of Quash Dolly was taught in schools; then came those who claimed he probably didn’t even know there was a war going on, which is insulting when you think about it. And then the story of Quash Dolly wasn’t told at all.

Nor is he the only instance. Less than a year later, a force of 545 Haitian Freemen joined the French Army and the patriots in an attempt to retake Savannah. There’s a monument to them in Savannah. And though they fought on the side of the patriots, little is said of them, or how the British would sell captured Haitian Freedmen back into slavery.

And yet this year will see the release of a movie about Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion who hacked to death up to 65 men, women, and children. Odds are he will be portrayed as a hero. There is no movie for the man who managed to free his entire family; nor for the largest contingent of black soldiers to fight on the side of the patriots.

The selective amnesia is puzzling.

My patriot ancestors likely would have held Quash Dolly, along with other loyalists, in low esteem. Yet unlike Benedict Arnold, Quash Dolly did not betray a cause to which he had sworn allegiance. Nearly two centuries later, when we were taught the American Revolution in school, the story of Quash Dolly was simply told: He led the British through the swamp and they paid him with a gold coin. No malice; it just was. One of the things you learn in history is that all the wishful thinking and all the spin in the world will not undue what has been done. Even with that, in the telling of history you can do much worse than Quash Dolly. Much worse.

It’s worth remembering Quamino Dolly. Just as it’s worth remembering the Chassuers-Volontaries de Saint-Domineque, and others who fought on both sides of the American Revolution. Somehow I don’t think they’ll get much mention this Black History Month. More’s the pity.

Advertisements