BLACK HISTORY MONTH concludes Saturday. Here are excerpts from the essays of three Baltimore correspondents on African Americans who made a difference:
No. 203, William Williams. The name is listed with the names of other recruits on the muster roll of the 38th U.S. Infantry. But this recruit was different. William Williams was a 21-year-old runaway slave from Prince George's County.
He was a native Marylander. He had run away from his owner, Benjamin Oden, in the spring of 1814. On April 14, 1814, William Williams was enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army and was
assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Federal law prohibited the enlistment of slaves because they "could make no valid contract with the government."
But the officer who enlisted Pvt. Williams did not question him. Perhaps he made no inquiries because a reward notice posted by his owner described Pvt. Williams as a "bright mulatto . . . and so fair as to show freckles." Nevertheless, Pvt. Williams received his enlistment bounty of $50 and was paid a private's wage of $8 a month.
In early September 1814, the 38th Infantry was ordered to march from its encampment on Hampstead Hill (Patterson Park) to Fort McHenry to take part in the defense of the city. During the bombardment, Pvt. Williams was stationed in the dry moat, along with 600 of his fellow infantrymen, to repel any attempted landing by the British.
Records indicate that Pvt. Williams was severely wounded, having "his leg blown off by a cannonball." He was taken to a Baltimore hospital, where he died two months later."
He was not the only black man to serve in the U.S. Army at Fort McHenry in 1814. Michael Buzzard enlisted as a private in the U.S. Corps of Artillery, the fort's regular garrison. There were numerous black sailors, and Baltimore also had many skilled free blacks who, as naval mechanics, sailmakers, riggers, carpenters and ship caulkers, helped build naval ships and privateers that ,, would defend Baltimore against the British.