Researched and written by Madden Brown
Salem Poor was born in Andover, MA in 1747 and was enslaved on the farm of John and Rebecca Poor. Poor bought his freedom for 27 pounds, which is equivalent to approximately $5,600 today, in 1769 at the age of 22. Before serving in the American Revolution, however, Salem Poor married for the first time in 1771 to freed woman Nancy Parker, with whom he had a son, Jonas, in 1774. Poor enlisted in the Massachusetts Interim army in May 1775.
Poor served with the first Andover unit under Captain Thomas Drury at Bunker Hill. If viewing the painting “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, 17 June, 1775” by John Trumbull, an African man can be seen in the bottom right hand corner, that man is believed to be Salem Poor. Later, Poor famously shot and killed British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie at the Battle of Breed’s Hill after British forces had killed 5 men from Andover and wounded 6 more. Salem Poor fought with the Continental Army through the end of the American Revolution and reenlisted for a three year term in 1777 with Colonel Edward Wigglesworth’s 13th Massachusetts Regiment. Poor was recognized for his bravery and his service, a rare honor for men of color in the American Revolution.
After he returned home from combat in 1780, he was married to Mary Lincoln, a woman who had just gained her freedom. They seemed to have a difficult marriage, being forced to leave Providence, RI, where they settled and later when Poor disavowed her and warned everyone to stay away from her in the Boston Gazette in 1785. In 1787 he married Sarah Stevens, a white woman. Lastly, he married Hannah Chase, a Black woman of unknown status in 1801. Not much more information is known about these women.
In 1802, Salem Poor died at the age of 55 in Boston, MA and was buried anonymously in the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. Salem Poor was one of about 5,000 African Americans who fought with the Colonists throughout the duration of the Revolutionary War and was widely recognized throughout the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as being a brave and experienced soldier who showed exemplary skill and dedication to the Revolution. During the Revolutionary War Bicentennial in March 1975, Poor was depicted on a ten cent postage stamp titled “Salem Poor- Gallant Soldier” as part of the Postal Service Series of stamps entitled “Contributors to the Cause.”