The First Black Army Nurse In The U.S.

Born on August 6, 1848, Susie Baker King Taylor was raised as an enslaved person was born on the Grest Farm in Liberty County, Georgia. At the age of 7, Baker and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Savannah. Even with the strict laws against formal education of African Americans, they both attended two secret schools taught by black women. Baker soon became at reading and writing. 

The Civil War brought Baker her freedom but not immediately. On April 1, 1862, at age 14, Baker was sent back to the country to live with her mother around the time Federal forces attacked nearby Fort Pulaski. When the fort was captured by the Union Army, Baker fled with her uncle’s family and other blacks to Union-occupied St. Simons Island where she claimed her freedom. Since most African Americans did not have an extensive education, word of Baker’s knowledge and intelligence spread among the Army officers on the island. 

Five days after her arrival, Baker was offered books and school supplies by a Commodore if she agreed to teach the children on St. Simon’s Island. Baker accepted, and became the first black teacher to openly instruct Black students in Georgia and would eventually teach both children and adults. Baker married her first husband, Edward King, a black non-commissioned officer in the Union Army at St. Simon Island.

Susie Baker King traveled with her husband’s regiment, for three years, working as a laundress while teaching black Union soldiers, during their off-duty hours. She also served as a nurse, helping camp doctors care for injured soldiers. 

In 1866, the Kings returned to Savannah, where she established a school for black children. Edward King died in September, only a few months after their first son was born.  By the early 1870s, she moved to Boston, Massachusetts where she met her second husband, Russell Taylor. With nursing being a passion of hers, Baker soon joined and then became president of the Women’s Relief Corps, which gave assistance to soldiers and hospitals.  In 1890, Baker wrote her memoirs in 1902, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd US Colored Troops”. Susie Baker King Taylor died in 1912 at the age of sixty-four in Boston.

Sources: Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: An African American Woman’s Civil War Memoir (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).

Contributor: Espiritu, Allison, University of Washington

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