by Andy Hall
Duke University Library
Susie King Taylor (1848-1912) was born in Liberty County, Georgia in 1848. Her mother was a house servant to a wealthy planter family, who allowed her to send her oldest children to live with her mother in Savannah. In Savannah she learned to read and write, and in the spring of 1862, in her early teens, escaped to Union forces occupying the Sea Islands of Georgia. With the support of Federal officers, she organized a school of freed slave children, and taught adults in the evening. While there, she met and married Edward King, a sergeant in the First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (later the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops), one of the first African-American regiments to see military service, even before the U.S. government officially authorized the recruitment of black regiments.
Although she was officially classed as a "laundress," Susie King served as a nurse, helped maintain weapons, and—most important—organized and taught classes for the soldiers. When the war ended, she returned to Savannah, where she organized a school for freed children. After Edward King's death in 1866, she organized two more schools which she supported by charging a small tuition. She lost her students when free schools were opened in the town, and eventually took a job as a domestic servant for a wealthy white family. She moved with them to Boston, where she remained for the rest of her life, making only brief visits to the South, and eventually married a man named Russell Taylor. In 1902, with the encouragement of the former commander of the 33rd U.S.C.T., she published her memoir, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops. More recently, Taylor's life has been profiled in Catherine Clinton's essay, "Susie King Taylor: 'I Gave My Services Willingly,'" part of Ann Short Chirhart and Betty Wood's collection, Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times.