Susie King Taylor: Afro-American Civil War Nurse

In the annuls of American history is the name of Susie King Taylor. Taylor began her famous life in Liberty County, Georgia on the Grest family farm. Her birthdate is August 6, 1848.

Around the time she was six or seven years old, Taylor and her brother were released from slavery by the Grests. The children were sent to Savannah, Georgia to live with their grandmother, Mrs. Dolly Reed. Mrs. Reed knew the importance of a good education. However, it was illegal at that time for Afro-American children to receive any sort of formal education. Black children were typically taught trades so they could be of further use to their masters.

The laws didn’t stop Mrs. Reed, though. She knew a neighbor who had a secret school at her home. So she immediately made an arrangement with the friend of hers, Mrs. Woodhouse, to teach the Susie and her brother to read and write. Everyday for the next two years, Taylor and her brother sneaked to Mrs.Woodhouse’s school in order to begin their education.

Finally, when Susie’s teacher taught her all that she could, the girl was sent to Mrs. Mary Beasley for additional studying.

After Taylor’s education ended, she was sent back to her mother. Her stay there was short, though, because the Civil War had started and she fleed with her uncle and his family to St. Catherine Island. From there, she found herself aboard a Union gunboat heading for St. Simon’s Island. Also on the boat was an Army Sergeant named Edward King, an Afro-American man who would soon become her husband.

Because Taylor was educated, she was asked to teach in a small school on the Union-controlled island. She taught black children, as well as adults. She also taught the other soldiers in Edward’s regiment how to read and write.

Then, during the second year of the Civil War, Taylor found another call to duty. This time, she was needed to nurse the wounded soldiers. It was at this time that she met a woman named Clara Barton who was also assisting with the care of the wounded. (Nearly two decades later, Clara Barton would become the founder of the American Red Cross.)

Taylor continued to be a nurse for the United States Army until her work was finished at the end of the war in 1865. Afterwards, she and Edward moved to Savannah, Georgia where she again began teaching. Unfortunately, while she was pregnant with their first child, Edward passed away suddenly. This event forced Taylor to find work as a servant in order to support her and her baby.

But, instead of staying in the South, she moved North to Boston, Massachusetts. It was there that she met and later married a man named Russell Taylor.

The rest of her life was spent working for the Woman’s Relief Corps. The WRC was a national association for the veterans of the Civil War.

In the early 1900’s, Susie Taylor King wrote and published her autobiography. It was titled, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: A Black Woman’s Civil War Memoirs.” In it she penned,
“All this time my interest in the boys in blue has not abated. My hands have never left undone anything they could do toward their aid and comfort in the twilight of their lives.”

Susie King Taylor’s mission finally ended upon her death in 1912; she was 64 years old.

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