During the War of 1812, black men trying to escape slavery to be free had few options. The British forces offered one, declaring that any escaped slave that joined with them in the Army or Navy would be freed, and granted land after the war in the Caribbean.
To many of those who had lived and chafed under slavery (which would not end for more than 50 more years), the offer was too tantalizing to turn away.
But many chose to stay and defend what they saw as their home. No matter the ultimate cost to their freedom. Private William Williams was one of those.
He had escaped his master in Prince George County, MD in early 1814. In May, his owner put a reward of $40 down for his return, under the name of Frederick.
Despite the offer by the British to join them, and his owner searching for him, he chose to join with the US Army. Enlisting in mid 1814 under the name of William Williams, he was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry in Baltimore. He received an enlistment bonus of $50, and wages of $8 per month. To a former slave, that seemed a fortune.
He didn't have long to enjoy his newfound wealth and status as a soldier though. In early September 1814, the 38th Infantry, including Private Williams, was ordered to Ft. McHenry in Baltimore.
You might ask yourself why Ft. McHenry rings a bell in your mind. The answer to that question lies in a young lawyer and part time poet who was aboard a British ship on the 13th and 14th of September. He was negotiating the release of a civilian POW from the city of Baltimore. His name was Francis Scott Keyes.
On the morning of the 13th, at exactly 6 am, the British guns opened up full force upon the garrison at Ft. McHenry. More than 1400 rounds were fired upon the defenders. All through the day and night the rounds struck upon the defenses, including one nearly devastating direct hit on the main ammo bunker that was thankfully a dud.
On the morning of the 14th, Keyes looked out from the ship in the harbor towards Ft. McHenry as the bombardment finally stopped. Above the Ft., the tattered and torn US Flag still flew. Keyes was so moved he quickly penned a poem Defence of Fort M'Henry
. It would later be renamed the Star Spangled Banner
Private Williams was one of the only 4 killed in the bombardment of Ft. McHenry. He was mortally wounded when a cannon round blew off his leg. He died 10 days later. His name is often left off the rolls of the defenders of Ft. McHenry, and even the Ft. McHenry Wikipedia only mentions him as "one African-American soldier" who was killed. No name. His honor stolen from him even there. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_McHenry
Private William Williams, on this Memorial Day, we remember and thank you. As one of those who fought against all odds to defend "The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave". #MemorialDayTheHiddenStories
The image is not of Private Williams, but a contemporary rendering of what a similar soldier would have looked like. IMG Source: http://www.nps.gov/people/william-williams.htm