Peter Salem was a legendary black soldier of the American Revolutionary War. Born a slave in Framingham, Massachusetts to Jeremiah Belknap, he was sold to Major Lawson Buckminister, who offered him his freedom if he enlisted as one of the Massachusetts Minutemen. He served in April 1775 under Colonel John Nixon’s 6th Massachusetts Regiment.
On June 17, 1775, at the height of the war on Bunker Hill, Salem killed British Major John Pitcairn. When the major asked Salem and the other colonists to surrender, Salem opened fire on the major. The British lost 1,000 men in the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Americans lost 400. Salem’s gun was preserved and is on display at the Bunker Hill Museum. Salem re-enlisted the following year and also fought in the Battle at Saratoga and Stony Point. He was honorably discharged from the Continental Army on December 31, 1779.
After the American Revolutionary War and after he was freed, Peter Salem married Katy Benson and built a cabin where he worked as a cane weaver. He died in a house for the poor in 1816. He was buried in the Old Burying Ground in his hometown. The town of Framingham erected a gravestone monument in his memory in 1882.
Salem’s triumph for the colonists on Bunker Hill is captured in the historic painting by artist John Trumbull, entitled the Battle of Bunker Hill. The painting is now a U.S. postage stamp that captures Salem behind Major Pitcairn.
In 1909, Peter Salem’s home in Leicester was named a historical monument with the help of the Daughters of the American Revolution. There is a stone erected at the home that reads “Here lived Peter Salem, a Negro soldier of the Revolution”.