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Thursday, 25 September 2014

BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY : AFRICAN AMERICAN " BRIGADIER GENERAL THOMAS MORRIS CHESTER " A MEN AMONG MEN, A BLACK MAN WHO IN TIMES WHEN BLACK PEOPLE WERE BETTER LEFT TO ROT, HE STOOD UP AND WAS COUNTED AS A BLACK MAN WITH ABILITY, AMBITION AND WILL TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE ; GOES INTO THE " HALL OF BLACK HEROES "

Brigadier General 
Thomas Morris Chester
                                             
BLACK          SOCIAL           HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    THOMAS MORRIS CHESTER ( 1834 – 1892 )
Thomas was born May 11, 1834 to George (a free prince from Barbados) and Jane Marie Mars Chester (a seventeen a runaway slave girl from Baltimore, MD). The Chester’s believed in education. They well educated their surviving eight children who were all born free in Harrisburg, PA.
Several of their children were first in many fields for Blacks during their day. Charlotte was Harrisburg first Black school teacher and David was one of the first Councilman in the 7th Ward of Harrisburg, PA in 1888.
Their son, Thomas was the most illustrious and distinguished of the group. He accomplished many first during his day. He is remembered as the only Black Civil War Correspondent, a scholar, a lawyer, statesman, diplomat, educator and a mentor.
He attended Avery Institute in Allegheny City just outside Pittsburgh and then went of to Liberia, West Africa in 1853 and attended High School there for a year. He returned to the United States and entered Thetford Academy in Vermont, graduating with second highest honors in his class of 1856.
He returned to Liberia as Superintendent of Schools in charge of returned freed Africans from American shores and instruct them in schools.
He encouraged and escorted thousands of freed men and their families back to Africa through Sierra Leone, Liberia and also to Haiti.
He returned to the States at the out break of the Civil War and as Captain,lead the drive in Harrisburg to enlist Black troops
in the 54th and 55th which formed the Massachusetts Regiment, the first Black troops raised for the war. He remained until threaten by Gov. Andrew in the refusal to appoint Black officers but later rejoined when this policy changed.
The Philadelphia Press hired him as the only Black war correspondent to report exclusively on the role of the Black Troops in the Civil War. He also was active in journalism as publisher and editor of the Star of Liberia newspaper and a correspondent of the New York Herald as early as 1857.
He entered Richmond, VA ahead of all forces except the Black troops of the 25th Army Corps under Major General Godfrey Weitzell who took over Richmond in the battle that ended the Civil War in 1865.
Thomas continued his travel to and fro from Liberia, West Africa more than twelve times escorting and assisting freed Black families to successfully settle in Africa. Thomas married an aboriginal lady Sara Richardson in Liberia. She bore him a son in Samuel Obadiah Chester. Thomas’ duty returned him to the States and shortly after he passed.
After Sara’s death, Samuel’s uncle Dr. Robert B. Richardson, the first President of the College of Liberia adopted his nephew and gave him their family name of Richardson. As an adult Samuel married Eliza Givens and to this union was born five (5) sons and three (3) daughters. Two of his surviving sons are Robert, Sr and James. They now living in the States and were the founders of the Thomas Morris Chester Benevolent, Corp. in Philadelphia, PA 2005.
Thomas was a great diplomat. While in England he was appointed Aid-de-Camp by President Payne of Liberia serving in many European countries – Denmark, Saxony Russia, Sweden , Belgium and also in Paris. In Russia in1867 Thomas was the first of his race to be presented to Russia’s Emperor Alexander. He viewed the troops with the czar and dined with him in St. Petersburg.
During these years Thomas wanted to study law and was the first of his race to enter the Middle Temple, one of the Inns Court in London to study law. He was the first Black called to the English Courts as a barrister and admitted to practice law in the Courts of Dauphin in 1870. He later practiced law after returning to the States in the Supreme Courts of PA and LA.
In Louisiana he was commissioned by Gov. Kellogg as Brigadier General of the 4th Brigade 1st Division of the State Militia in command of LA’s National Guards, also appointed District Superintendent of Public Education including LA white and Black Schools, and appointed United States Commissioner for the District of LA. In 1870 Avery College conferred upon him a degree of Master of Arts.
Thomas and his entire family were very active in the Underground Railroad. His parents home and restaurant at 305 Chestnut Street in Harrisburg was a chief station along the route. The Chester’s comforted, feed and housed hundreds of “freedom seekers: in their home. It was also a center for abolitionist activity and William Lloyd Garrison’s paper the
“Liberator“ was purchased there.
Thomas was active in the AME General Conference and President of Onslow Railroad Co. that was endorsed by AME Bishops but the company failed for lack of investments. He continued his activities with the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Societies, The American Colonization Society, Harrisburg African American Men, emissary of the Garnet Equal Rights League, United Order of Odd Fellows, and his post war protest as he practiced law fighting for liberties of thousands poor under privileged whites and especially for the rights of freed Blacks where he became embroiled in factional fighting of their post war reconstruction problems.
Thomas and Fredrick Douglas were friends and spent much active time together but unlike Fredrick, Thomas advocated “cooperation as equals “not Douglas’s theory“ separate but equal. Thomas supported his theory that “the human race was like a piano – independent white and black keys but when played together they made beautiful music.
Mother of Thomas Morris Chester
Jane Marie Mars Chester  a mulatto girl was born in slavery in Baltimore, MD. At age 17 with the help of the Underground Railroad, Jane escaped to York, PA. She later was persuaded to go to Harrisburg to met  George Chester  a  free young  man. They fell in love and were later married.
George and Jane operated a restaurant  at Market  Street in Harrisburg. It  served as  the headquarters for the the Underground Railroad in that section of PA. Many escaped slaves spent their first free night under the Chester's roof before continuing their flight north.   
She is honored with  several celebrations in Harisburg . Jane and her son Thomas were  named  among  PA's  20  Trailblazers as  PA most honored Black leaders  by the   PA State Museum .  
Jane Chester died March 19, 1894  at the age of 90.