Occam was born into slavery in South Carolina, and he was considered to be strong, yet uneducated. In 1780, his owner signed him over to guerrilla leader Benjamin Martin during the American Revolutionary War, but Martin had Occam make his own mark on the enlistment sheet, respecting his status as a human being. Occam experienced racism from other American militiamen, but he was defended by Martin's son Gabriel and the French Army officer Jean Villeneuve. Occam remained in the military for twelve months, and he was granted his freedom in exchange; he decided to stay past the expiry of his enlistment to fight at the Battle of Cowpens, as he had been won over by the morals of the patriot cause. After the war, he helped in raising Martin's new home in recognition of his service to the United States.