A Soldier's Story: Major Martin Robison Delany


Major Martin Robison Delany was born on May 6, 1812, in Charleston, West Virginia. He was educated illegally in West Virginia until 1822, when his books were discovered by authorities. He and his family had to escape to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where Major Martin Delany was allowed to finish grammar school. Major Delany then studied privately until his enrollment in the African Methodist Episcopal church cellar school at 19. 

After an unsuccessful attempt to enter Harvard medical school, Major Martin Delany apprenticed with a doctor of Anglo descent. He also began writing and attended his first National Negro Convention in 1835. 

In 1843, Major Martin Robison Delany began publishing "The Mystery," an African American newspaper in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Also, he began working with Fredrick Douglas in the development of "The North Star," another African American journal and one focused on the black perspective.

Major Delany was finally accepted to Harvard Medical School in 1850 but was forced to leave immediately due to widespread protests. Angry at the continued repression and enslavement of the time, he wrote "The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered" and began to endorse the establishment of and immigration to colonies in Africa. 

Continuing his work on African American rights, he wrote 1854 Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent. In 1856, he moved with his family to Chatham, Ohio, where he served on the Chatham Vigilance Committee and the Underground Railroad.

Major Martin Delany traveled to Liberia in 1859 and began publishing the serialized novel "Blake: Or The Huts of America."   He was unsuccessful in finding a feasible colony location in Liberia and returned to the US. Major Delany began actively recruiting fellow freemen for the Union Army in 1863 and would fight in the Battles of Charleston. 

After the war, Major Delany would serve on the Freedmen's Bureau and establish a land and brokerage service to help recently freed people obtain their own farmlands. He ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina in 1874. He briefly served as a trial judge in Charleston before being brought himself (unfairly) to trial for fraud. While he was eventually exonerated, he would not be allowed to serve again.

Major Martin Delany supported the 1876 South Carolina election of Wade Hampton to Governor and would rally African American votes for the election, despite polling violence.  

In 1877, with the withdrawal of Federal troops from former Confederate states, Jim Crow laws were established, and African colonization seemed feasible. Major Martin Robison Delany would support the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship and serve on the board until 1880.

Major Delany retired from writing and his work with the Liberia Colonization project in 1880. He returned to his medical practice and moved to Wilberforce, Ohio, where two of his sons attended university. He died on January 24, 1885, from tuberculosis and rests at the Massies Creek Cemetery in Cedarville, Ohio.


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

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