The Philadelphia Press hired Thomas Morris Chester as the first African American war correspondent. Chester sees Union troops from the Army of the Potomac seize Richmond, Virginia. Chester spent the final year of the war in and around Richmond.
His dispatches are the most comprehensive and detailed first-hand account of black soldiers in existence. Chester was regarded as one of Philadelphia’s most famous 19th-century African-Americans.
Chester was born on May 11, 1834, in Baltimore, to George and Jane Marie Chester, an oyster salesman and an escaped slave. He attended Akron College, an African-American academy in Pittsburgh, when he was 16 years old.
Chester studied in Liberia as a young man, where he became a believer in African colonization. He was also the editor of the Liberian newspaper the Star of Liberia and a school leader. Chester emigrated from Africa around the time of the American Civil War, first to Liverpool and London, England, and then to the United States.
During the Civil War, Chester was assigned the task of recruiting black men for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments. During the Gettysburg campaign in 1863, he also led two companies of Blacks for local defense.
This was the first time African Americans in Pennsylvania received weapons. Chester worked as a war correspondent for the Philadelphia Press from August 1864 until the end of the war. During the war, he was the first Black reporter for a major daily northern newspaper and traveled with the Army of the Potomac.
Chester later studied law in England, possibly becoming the first Black barrister. While in Louisiana, he also served as collector of customs, brigadier general of militia, and superintendent of schools. After becoming ill, he returned to Harrisburg in 1892, where he died in his mother’s home.