SUSIE BAKER KING TAYLOR

CIVIL WAR NURSE. TEACHER. WRITER. RACIAL JuSTICE ACTIVIST.  

2018 Honoree, Georgia Women of Achievement

QUICK FACTS

 

Birth Date

August 6, 1848​

Death Date

October 12, 1912​

Induction Year

2018​

City, Town, Region

Midway, Georgia​

HIGHLIGHTS

1855-1862: Demonstrated courage by attending four undergrund secret school in Savannah when it was illegal under the Georgia slave laws

1862: Escaped plantation slavery via boat with several other family members

1962-1965: Educated hundreds of other runaway slaves on St Simon's Island; Appointed teacher by Union Army; Became the first federally funded teacher in the state of Georgia; Among the first acknowledged African American nurses in the US to administer battlefield care to the wounded and dying soldiers

1866-1868: Opened three schools for African American children and adults in Georgia

1870's: Fought for African American women's wage labor and economic independence in Savannah

1874: Served as a member of Woman's Relief Corps (WRC) in Boston, MA caring for Civil War veterans

1886: Organized a black women's Woman's Relief Corps in Boston to circumvent racial discrimination in the main WRC organization

1898: Created care packages for the American soldiers of the Spanish-American War

1892: Championed the cause of the Army Nurse Pension Act although she was denied a pension based on her initial enlistment title

1902: Wrote and self-published her memoir, "Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops"

1912: Died in Boston, MA

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Susie Baker King Taylor is a woman of great significance to Georgia and the nation’s history. She was born Susannah “Susie” Baker in Midway, Liberty County Georgia on August 6, 1848. Among nearly thirty others, she was enslaved with her mother, grandmother, and five younger siblings on the Valentine Grest Plantation in Midway. Her father was enslaved on a neighboring plantation in Riceboro, Georgia. She was secretly taught to read by her plantation mistress and by the age of seven she moved with her quasi-free grandmother Dolly Reid to Savannah where she attended a series of underground secret schools at a time in Georgia’s history when it was illegal. (One of her teachers during this dangerous time was Mother Mathilda Beasley of Savannah, Georgia’s first African American Catholic nun.)

One year after the opening salvo of the Civil War in 1861, thirteen year old Susie along with an uncle’s family escaped via boat at Jones River sailing into St. Catherine’s Sound and the Atlantic Ocean when they were rescued by Union forces and transported to St. Simons Island. Union Navy leadership inquired about her literacy in which she responded in the affirmative and thereby becoming the first federally funded teacher for the state of Georgia teaching the hundreds of runaway slaves who were gathered on the island. By 1862 many plantation owners had abandoned their fields for safety from the Union troops. Although many owners attempted to entice their slaves to accompany them inland, the bondspeople rebelled against this idea instead choosing to remain on the land to profit from their own labor.

 

Prior to the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Massachusetts’ Governor John A. Andrew had met with President Abraham Lincoln to persuade him to proclaim a “Men of Color, Call to Arms!” in which black men, free and enslaved, would be allowed to participate in the War Between the States. On May 9, 1862, Union Major General David Hunter, a die-hard abolitionist and advocate for arming black men [ex-slaves], issued General Order No. 11:

"The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States — Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina— heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free." (Bronson 33rd USCT website) — Maj. Gen. David Hunter, Department of the South, General Order No. 11, May 9, 1862

The order was immediately rescinded by the President who would eventually pass the Confiscation Act on July 17, 1862 which called for court proceedings for disloyal Confederate citizens and the emancipation of all slaves in states that came under Union control. According to Lowcountry Africana Genealogy, “...[W]hen a Congressman from Kentucky inquired if it was true that a regiment of fugitive slaves had been organized in Port Royal, Hunter responded by stating that his soldiers were not fugitive slaves, they were former slaves whose late masters were “fugitive rebels.” In organizing the troops, Hunter stated, he had broadly interpreted orders to “employ all loyal persons offering their services in defense of the Union.”

Susie Baker King Taylor’s escape occurred within this uncertain period of Union Army and Congressional debates. Many of the fugitive slaves or contraband of war on St. Simon’s Island would become the 1st South Carolina Volunteers under General Rufus Saxton in Port Royal, South Carolina and later the 33rd United States Colored Troops in 1864. The men of the 33rd overflowed with joy to serve the Union Army in an effort to facilitate their own freedom, even as they endured racial discrimination regarding pay of $10 for their labors while their white counterparts were paid $13. In maintaining their dignity, they rejected any amount until they were issued equal pay. In June 1864, Congress passed a bill equalizing pay retroactive for all men who had been free at the start of the war and later it would include pay for all black soldiers. (The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities)

She traveled with 33rd military unit from 1862 – 1866 between South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida cooking, washing clothes, cleaning muskets, and nursing the wounded, however she was never paid for her services. She stated, “I gave my services willingly for four years and three months without receiving a dollar.” At some point during the war, Susie married a literate, non- commissioned African American officer of her unit named Sgt. Edward King of Darien, Georgia. 

After the war ended in 1865, Sgt. and Mrs. King returned to Georgia where he became a stevedore and she opened the first of three schools for the newly freed men, women, and children. In 1866 her first fee-based school opened in Savannah, but by mid-year her husband died of a mysterious illness. The school closed shortly thereafter due to low enrollment resulting from a free school built by the Freedmen’s Bureau and sponsored by the American Missionary Association – The Beach Institute. In 1867 she opened her second school in her hometown thirty-five miles south of Savannah in Midway in Liberty County. After almost a year of teaching, the now widow Mrs. King found it difficult to earn an income to care for her son, Edward Jr., whom Sgt. King never met. And to make matters worse her father, who also served in a regiment of the United States Colored Troops, also died that year. She placed her son in the care of her mother and she left her school in the hands of an educated mulatto woman and she returned to Savannah to open a night school for children and adults. The economic depression resulting from the Civil War made it virtually impossible to earn substantial wages as a single woman. By mid-1868 she closed her night school and made the difficult decision to offer services as a domestic servant for wealthy white merchants in Savannah.

In 1874, she found employed with a northern merchant doing business in the port city and upon his family’s return home she migrated to Boston, Massachusetts with them. She returned to Georgia on several occasions. In 1879 she returned to her to marry her second husband Russell Taylor. In 1889, she returned to attend her grandmother’s funeral. In 1898, she returned to the south (Louisiana) to bury her only son who died of consumption. She would return several more times to visit her mother who had opened a grocery store between Savannah and Doctortown in Wayne County, Georgia.

By 1880 Taylor had eventually settled in Boston, Massachusetts where she engaged in patriotic and civic work in the Woman’s Relief Corps, a Civil War veterans’ organization. In 1902, this native daughter of Georgia wrote and self-published her memoir, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops. While conducting census work in Washington D.C. she met one of the runaway-slaves-turned-soldiers of her regiment who commended her for her service to them:

"By the turn of the 20th century, as Jim Crow laws and violence of the Ku Klux Klan toward African Americans escalated, Susie Baker King Taylor had become an outspoken early racial justice activist and contemporary of Harriet Tubman and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Well Barnett. She stood firm against racial prejudice and discrimination. She died in 1912 in Boston, Massachusetts at the age of sixty-four still using her voice and the power of the pen to champion racial equality. “All we ask for is "equal justice," the same that is accorded to all other races who come to this country, of their 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.” (Reminiscences, page 63) Nationally, Susie Baker King Taylor is recognized as the only woman to date to have written a memoir about the inside perspectives of a Civil War regiment."

Formed in 2015, the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center is currently working with the members of the descendant community in Susie Baker King Taylor’s hometown of Midway, Georgia who have long cultural memories and oral traditions pertaining to related family genealogy, church membership, burials, and historic sites. These organizations include the Historic Dorchester Academy established in 1882 and Midway First Presbyterian Church and Cemetery established in 1868.

Given the aforementioned facts regarding Susie Baker King Taylor’s incredible life and outstanding accomplishments, the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center is proud to nominate Georgia’s “Native Daughter” and “Heroine of Freedom”, Susie Baker King Taylor, to the 2018 Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame.

@2016 by Georgia Women of Achievement

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Georgia Women of Achievement, Inc
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Box 8249
Macon GA 31210