Preservation Month 2023 – Susie King Taylor

For Preservation Month, Florida Trust Board Member Ennis Davis shared an impactful story: Susie King Taylor’s remarkable life.

Susie King Taylor, born Susan Baker on August 6, 1848, was an extraordinary figure. She played a vital role as a nurse, teacher and activist during the American Civil War and beyond, and became the first Black army nurse in U.S. history.

Susie King Taylor was born into slavery in Liberty County, Georgia. Determined to gain an education despite Georgia’s harsh laws against it, she attended two secret schools taught by Black women. Her education laid the foundation for her future endeavors.

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Taylor’s life took a dramatic turn. At the age of 14, she escaped from slavery and joined a group of Union soldiers from the 33rd United States Colored Troops as a laundress. Recognizing her talents and dedication, however, the Union army soon appointed Susie King Taylor as a nurse. She provided vital medical care to wounded soldiers, often working tirelessly under challenging conditions. She tended to the injured and sick, helping them with their recovery and providing comfort during their darkest moments.

“There are many people who do not know what some of the colored women did during the war.” – Reminiscences

Susie King Taylor’s role as a nurse expanded beyond medical care. She also served as a teacher, educating newly freed African American soldiers. In her spare time, she taught them basic literacy and arithmetic, empowering them with knowledge and skills that were previously denied to them. Taylor understood the importance of education in the fight against racial injustice and the struggle for equality.

Her experiences during the war provided her with firsthand knowledge of the horrors and sacrifices made by those involved. Taylor chronicled her experiences in a memoir called Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers, which was published in 1902. Her memoir served as a crucial historical account, shedding light on the experiences of African Americans during the Civil War.

In March 1863, the regiment was assigned to the occupation of Jacksonville. This expedition was intended to secure Unionist sentiment in the area and attract escaped enslaved, who could then be recruited as soldiers.

“March 10, 1863, we were ordered to Jacksonville, Florida. When the rebels saw [our] boats, they ran out of the city, leaving the women behind, and we found out afterwards that they thought we had a much larger fleet than we really had.” – Reminiscences

After the war, Susie King Taylor continued to advocate for education and civil rights. She married Edward King, a sergeant in the 33rd USCT, and settled in Savannah, Georgia. Taylor established a school for Black children, becoming one of the first Black teachers in Georgia, and dedicated her life to promoting education and empowering African Americans through knowledge and learning.

Susie King Taylor’s contributions to the American Civil War and the post-war period were immeasurable. Her work as a nurse, teacher and activist helped improve the lives of countless individuals. She shattered societal norms and paved the way for future generations of African American women to strive for equality and pursue their dreams.

Today, Susie King Taylor’s legacy lives on as a symbol of resilience, courage and determination and continues to inspire people to fight for justice and equality.

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