Historical Biographies: Who Is Susie King Taylor?

When she was a teenager, Susie King Tayor began to teach, do laundry for and treat the wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

Susie King Taylor was born a slave in 1848 on the Isle of Wight, off the coast of Georgia. Her owners permitted her to move to Savannah to live with her grandmother when she was seven years old. Even though it was illegal for a black child to receive any education, Susie's grandmother had a neighbor, who had a secret school for slaves, teach her to read and write. As Susie recalled in her memoirs,

"We went every day about nine o'clock, with our books wrapped in paper to prevent the police or white persons from seeing them. We went in, one at a time, through the gate. After school we left the same way we entered, one by one."

Just after the Civil War began, Susie escaped with her uncle's family to St. Catherines Island, which was under Union control. She later moved to St. Simons Island and established a school for black children and adults.



During the Civil War, many escaped male slaves served in the Thirty-third U.S. colored Troops, the first African American regiment officially mustered into the Union army. In 1862, Susie married Sergeant Edward King, one of the members of this regiment. Although she was only fourteen years old, she taught the soldiers in her husband's regiment to read and write and did their laundry. In January 1863, Susie King began to nurse the wounded men who returned to camp from a raid up the St. Mary's River, which divides Georgia and Florida. She met Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross at the regimental hospital where they both nursed the wounded soldiers. Susie King nursed the wounded soldiers for four years and three months and never received any money for her work. However, she was proud of her work and took pleasure in assisting the soldiers whom she referred to as her "comrades."

In 1866, she and her husband moved to Savannah. She became pregnant with her first child shortly after she moved there. Tragically her husband died before the child was born. Susie King worked as a cook and laundress to support her child before her marriage to Russell Taylor in 1879.

The soldiers that Susie King Taylor nursed never forgot her and often wrote to her. She published her autobiography in 1902, entitled, "Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: A Black Woman's Civil War Memoirs." She died in 1912, ten years after the book was published. In her book, she said of her experience as a Civil War nurse,

"It seems strange how our aversion to seeing suffering is overcome in war. How we are able to see the most sickening sights and instead of turning away, how we hurry to assist in alleviating their pain, bind up their wounds, and press the cool water to their parched lips, with feelings only of sympathy and pity."

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