Stories from Mount Hope: Susie King Taylor
Susie King Taylor was an utterly remarkable woman, the first African American nurse during the Civil War who went on to be the only Black female to publish a memoir of her wartime experience. And that is just the beginning of her story....
Susie King Taylor was born on August 6, 1848, on the Isle of Wight, one of the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia (it is 35 miles south of Savannah). Susie was born into slavery. When she was a child, the plantation owner allowed her to move to Savannah to live with her grandmother. Unusually, Susie’s grandmother enrolled her in secret schools that educated enslaved children.
As the Civil War started, her family was amongst the formerly enslaved persons who sought safety with the Yankees who had taken over the Sea Island of South Carolina. The Union army, upon discovering her literacy, immediately put her to work teaching children on St Simon’s Island (she was 14). The self-emancipated who flocked to the Union Army were soon declared “contraband of war”. The men could enlist in the army and soon formed regiments. Susie was hired as a laundress for a newly formed regiment of Black soldiers but quickly took up nursing duties. She also acted as a teacher to anyone in the regiment who wanted to learn to read. She married Sergeant Edward King in 1862. After the war, they moved back to Savannah where Susie set up her own school, hoping to help educate Black children. Her husband died in 1866, and there were some later years where Susie was forced to work as a domestic servant.
In 1872 she moved north to Boston (with a family she worked for) and married Russell Taylor in 1879. She became active in organizations that worked with Civil War veterans. In 1886 she helped to organize the Woman’s Relief Corps #67 (which was an auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic). Susie participated in ongoing efforts to undertake census activities to make sure all Civil War veterans living in Boston were known and provided the support they needed.
She also saw the plight of Black soldiers during the Spanish American War and sent supplies to them and to hospitals serving them. She mentions in her autobiography: “There were black soldiers there, too. At the battle of San Juan Hill, they were in the front, just as brave, loyal, and true as those other black men who fought for freedom and the right, and yet their bravery and faithfulness were reluctantly acknowledged, and praise grudgingly given. All we ask for is ‘equal justice’, the same that is accorded to all other races who come to this country, of their own free will (not forced to, as we were), and are allowed to enjoy every privilege, unrestricted, while we are denied what is rightfully our own in a country which the labor of our forefathers helped to make what it is”.
In October 2021, the Sons of Union Veterans erected a memorial at Mount Hope Cemetery and honored the life of this extraordinary woman. In a nice twist of fate, Boston’s first woman and African American Mayor, Kim Janey, was there to help highlight Susie’s story and unveil the memorial. The memorial is located in the Elm Grove section on Spruce Avenue.
Lucky for all of us, another of Susie’s firsts was that she is the only Black woman who published a memoir of her Civil War work - a book which is still available so that everyone can read the story of Susie King Taylor in her own words today.
Reminiscences of My Life A Black Woman’s Civil War Memoirs
Reminiscences of my Life in Camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops. Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers 1902
Written by Gretchen Grozier and edited by Sally Ebeling, June 2022
The Stories of Mount Hope blog features periodic posts on a variety of topics concerning historic Mount Hope Cemetery. This blog is hoping to unearth the hidden stories of Mount Hope Cemetery. Please let us know if there is something you think should be highlighted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Published by: Parks and Recreation