Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Contraband Small Pox Hospital of New Bern NC

Image from top of Ledger of Colored Contract Nurses, a the Smallpox Hospital in Newberne NC

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My interest in Civil War era nurses came by accident only recently when I noticed that a soldiers in the 57th US Colored Infantry filed a pension. On the index card was a reference to his wife who also served as a nurse and who was filing for a pension herself. This made me pause and I had to ask if there were more women of color who were nurses.  I quickly found the answer--a resounding yes!  There are records and though they are scattered and don't contain much narrative--there is still a story to tell.

In my previous post I shared parts of a ledger that I found with some images reflecting the names of a few dozen women and men, of color who were hired during the Civil war as "contract nurses". Their contracts did not appear to last long and only their names were reflected, however, I immediately saw the significance of this small ledger and realized that all of us need to know this story.

One of the hospitals in the ledger was the Contraband Small Pox Hospital in New Bern North Carolina. In the spring of 1864 as the numbers of contrabands grew, health issues arose within a short time. The contrabands were newly freed slaves who successfully fled bondage and found freedom on their own with no overseers nor owners to restrain their flight to freedom.  But the health problems quickly arose among this refugee population, and the people needed immediate attention to prevent a widespread epidemic.

The book by Nina Silber, Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War she describe how in early 1864, that Abigail May of the New England Sanitary Commission was consulted to provide supplies for the smallpox  hospital in New Bern North Carolina for newly freed slaves. The members were not as eager as one might have expected, for the members of the society preferred to put their energies towards aiding soldiers more than civilians. (1)

By March of 1864, however, a good number of people of color were hired as contract nurses. Their names are found on the ledger of the Colored Contract Nurses, that I was fortunate to locate at the National Archives two weeks ago.

Ledger Reflecting Colored Contract Nurses at Contraband Smallpox Hospital in New Bern NC

The final names of nurses at New Berne were listed on the following page:
Contraband Smallpox Hospital, New Bern NC (continued)

Upon examination of the names it became apparent that there were both men and women who were hired to attend to the patients at the Small Pox Hospital.

The hired nurses were:
Phillip Biddle
James Brimayer
Dinah Carter
Wright Cobb
Eliza Chapman
Sarah Donnell
Lora Faber
Susan Grimes
Samuel Harris
Dolly Howard
Matthew Ircott
Zachary Johnson
Scott Jones
Jane Kinsley
Frank Lewis
Celia Lindsay
Joshua Lindsay
Juda Latham
Frank Mabry
Isaac Mabry
Henry Moore
Sarah Mellinder
Lucy Overton
Alfred Pool
Martha Pool
David Ralls
Edward Ruffind
Gracy Russell
Jospeh Simmons
Joseph Singleton
Levanter Swindle
Creasy Taylor
Mary Thomas
Thomas Turner
Simon Wilson
Ellen Washington

Names from the second page:
George Wesson
Nelly White
Clarissa Wilson
Charity Wilder
Mary Chance
Margaret Bennett
Esther Bennett
Minerva Jones

The epidemic in New Bern was described as a very serious situation and some letters sent by black soldiers to their superiors described very dire circumstances for the person afflicted. Ira Berlin presented some of the letters depicting the desperate conditions facing those freed men and women who were afflicted with small pox. One of the letters appears below and it was written by a black soldier who witnessed the sufferings of the small pox victims.

Letter written by soldier who witnessed the sufferings of the New Bern Small Pox patients. (2)

By March of the same year, however, it appears that a hospital was created to treat the freedmen and more than forty nurses were hired to assist in their treatment and care.

Thankfully in spite of a reluctance on the part of some to treat African American patients needing care the response did come from the community. The forty four nurses from the New Bern community who responded at different times from the beginning of the outbreak of the disease, till the war's end, deserve their moment of recognition, and their story too, should be told.

(1) Silber, Nina, Daughter of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005

(2) Berlin, Ira, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993  p. 182-183

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Remembering Black Nurses in the Civil War

Black Relief workers Washington DC, 1865

On a recent trip to the National Archives, while looking for a Civil War soldier, I saw an interesting notation on an index card. The notation was that the soldier's wife was also applying for her own pension as nurse. This was the first time I had seen such a notation, and this made me curious as to who she was and then the question arose for me--were there more women of color who were nurses who names could be found? 

I asked some questions of one of the military archivists who directed me to a ledger that contained several pages of names of nurses who were hired as "contract nurses" in the Civil War.

Page from Ledger at National Archives Representing Colored Contract Nurses 1863-64

Seeing the names of these persons was more than exciting, because this is history only mentioned in passing and very few names are known. But I was fortunate to have found the names of these persons long forgotten and to see their roles as Civil War nurses documented.

Cover of Ledger of Civil War Colored Nurses

The ledger is a small one, and it contained only a handful of hospitals that were mentioned in Maryland, Virginia or North Carolina.

Hospitals Reflected in Civil War Ledger

The hospitals mentioned in the front of the ledger were:

Convalescent Hospital - Patterson Park, Baltimore Maryland
Contraband Hospital, Norfolk Virginia
Contraband Small Pox Hospital, New Berne North Carolina
Chesapeake Hospital, Virginia
Contraband Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia

However, other hospitals were actually captured in the ledger, including:
Jarvis US General Hospital in Baltimore
Green Heights Hospital (Unknown location)
McKim's Mansion Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland (The Patterson Park Hospital)

I am fully aware that there are not many photos of these women and women who served as nurses in the Civil War, but I also became curious as to whether or not there are images of any of the hospitals where they served. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few images that did survive.

As a result I was able to find some images of these sites.

Patterson Park Hospital was also known as McKim's Mansion Hospital where several nurses of color worked.

Patterson Park US General Hospital, Baltimore Maryland:
Rosa Caulk
Henretta Grimes
Louisa Warren
Mary Williams
Susan Jane Williams
Moses Arndt
John McDevitt

The Jarvis US General Hospital was a very large facility in Baltimore. There were ten black nurses working under contract at Jarvis. I am wondering if one of the barracks was devoted to black soldiers for there to have been many who were hired at the same time to work there.

Names of black nurses contracted to work at Jarvis US General Hospital

Jarvis US General Hospital - Names of Black Nurses:
Eliza Francis
M. A. Johnson
Anna Richardson
Lizzie Stafford
Elsie Candy
Rachel Malun (?)
Laura Smith
Mary Rudley
Mary Rolan
Susan Smith

When looking at the names of nurses at the Contraband Hospital in Norfolk, I was surprised to see that both
men and women's names appeared on the ledger of contract nurses.

Names of Contract Nurses at the Contraband Hospital Norfolk Virginia

Contraband Hospital -  Norfolk, Virginia
Henderson Dukes
Arnachy Jones
Isaac Jones
John Jones
Charlotte Reddick
Isaac Reddick
Phillip Reddick
Robert Reddick
Ross Jacob
Sophia Sample
Martha Savage
Solomon Schirchins (?)
Priscilla Smith
Maggie Wiot

Contraband Hospital (continued)
Susan Dixon
Charlotte M. Furson
Margaret M. Furson
William George
Samuel Green
Martha Harrold
Isaac Holland
Mary James
Anna M. Johnson
Harvey Mark
Julia A. Mark
Matthew Proctor
Marlo Spiva
Isaac Simmons
John Timbrisk
Chas. Wesry
Sara Dix
Maria Holland
Julia Johnson
Sophia Sample
Thomas Morris

There was one hospital whose name was difficult to read.  It appeared on the ledger as "Lowenture" Hostpital. However, I dedided to see if I could find the actual name of the hospital and was surprised when I did. It was actually L'Overture Hospital in Alexandria Virginia. This hospital was a contraband hospital named after Toussaint L'Overture, the liberator of Haiti! This may have been the very first hospital named after a person of color in the country.

Roster of first black nurses hired in 1863 and 64 to work at L'Overture US General Hospital

I was even more surprised to find that there has been an archeological project in Alexandria Virginia underway, looking at the history of this hospital. 

Notes about L'Ouverture Hospital from Archeological study. 

And there is also an historical marker for this hospital.

Historical Marker on Duke Street in Alexandria, marking this Civil War hospital.

The small lists of nurses who worked at these few hospitals that I found are only the beginning. Their history also deserves to be told and their names should be called. 

May we never forget them, as we tell the many untold stories of America's Civil War.