Susie King Taylor

1848-1912. Photo c. 1902 (Courtesy East Carolina University)

When Susie King Taylor was born in slavery in 1848, it was illegal to educate African Americans in Georgia but she learned to read and write at a young age thanks to a secret school. After she fled to Union-controlled St. Simons Island during the U.S. Civil War, her talents brought her to the attention of Union officers who asked the teenager if she would organize a school if they could obtain books and materials. She gladly agreed and, at age 14, Taylor became the first black teacher for freed African-Americans at a freely operating school in Georgia. She taught 40 children in a day school and, as she wrote in her memoir, “a number of adults who came to me nights, all of them so eager to learn to read, to read above anything else.”


Soon after, she married Edward King, an African-American non-commissioned officer stationed there with the First South Carolina Volunteers of African Descent. When the island was evacuated in 1862, she opted to follow his regiment as a nurse.  For three years, she served as an unpaid nurse for the regiment, and taught many black soldiers to read and write in their off-duty hours. After the war was over, Taylor and her husband returned to Savannah, Georgia where she established another school for freed African-American children.

Sadly, her husband died shortly afterward, and the opening of a free school nearby forced Taylor to close hers. Seeking new opportunities, she traveled to Boston as the domestic servant of a wealthy family and remarried in 1879. 

More than ten years later -- and over thirty years after the end of the Civil War -- she wrote one of the most detailed memoirs ever written by a woman about life in a Civil War camp. Her memoir, “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers,” was also the only memoir ever written by an African-American woman about her experience during the Civil War. In it, Taylor emphasized the important role of black troops, as well as the often unrecognized role that women played during the Civil War: “There were loyal women, as well as men, in those days who did not fear the shell or the shot, who cared for the sick and the dying.” 

Susie King Taylor: Teacher, Nurse, Author Susie King Taylor, Courtesy East Carolina University

 “It seems strange how our aversion to seeing suffering is overcome in war … and instead of turning away, how we hurry to assist in alleviating their pain, bind up their wounds, and press cool water to their parched lips, with feelings only of sympathy and pity.” Born: 1848 Died: 1912 Profession: Nurse Born into Slavery: Susie King Taylor was born into slavery. At age seven, her owner allowed her to live with her grandmother in Savannah, Georgia. She went to two secret schools to learn to read and write. Her teachers were other African American women.

Nurse and Teacher: During the Civil War, Taylor worked as a nurse and teacher. Like most Civil War nurses, she did not go to school to learn to be a nurse. She learned on the job. She was also one of the few blacks who could read and write, so she taught free blacks and former slaves. She served the 33rd Regiment of the United States Colored Troops for more than three years, alongside her husband, Edward King, a sergeant in the regiment.

Like many African American nurses, Taylor was never paid for her work as a nurse during the Civil War. Author: Susie King Taylor wrote a book about her life. Her book tells her experiences as an African American nurse during the American Civil War.  The book is the only one, ever written, that tells what it was like to be an African American nurse during the Civil War! The title of the book is Reminiscences of My Life in Camp. Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops Late 1st S.C. Volunteers.

Susie King Taylor's memoir is still in print - to learn more, visit 

© 2019 Tapestry, Annual TAMUK Women & Gender Studies Journal

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