A Soldier's Story: Private Cathay Williams



Private Cathay Williams was born enslaved sometime during September 1844 in Independence, Missouri.

She worked as a house servant for the Johnson Plantation near Jefferson City, Missouri, until the US Army occupied the area during the US Civil War.

During the Civil War,  US Army usually considered enslaved persons "contraband" and regularly impressed them into service. When Jefferson City came under Union control, Private Cathay Williams was "confiscated" and assigned to the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, traveling as a seamstress and cook.



On November 15, 1866, she disguised herself as a man and enlisted into the U.S. Army as William Cathay and was assigned to the 38th Infantry Regiment (known as the Buffalo Soldiers) and stationed in N  Mexico. 

Catching smallpox shortly after her enlistment, Private Cathay Williams struggled with her health but kept her secret for almost 2 years before her gender was discovered by the post doctor. She was discharged on October 14, 1868.

Private Cathay Williams remained in the Southwest, supporting herself as a seamstress and cook.

Her health deteriorated, but she was denied any military pension. It is believed she died around 1893, and her final resting place is unknown.

The U.S. Army has acknowledged her service by placing a memorial bench at the National Infantry Museum.   She is believed to be the first woman of African descent to serve in the U.S. Military.


Everyday Patriot Military Biographies 
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