A frequent reader of William Lloyd Garrison’s, “Liberator,” Nell joined the antislavery movement and began working for the Liberator newspaper in the 1840s. At many of the antislavery functions in Boston, he was Garrison’s personal representative. He was also active in the Underground Railroad. In 1851, he became assistant to Frederick Douglass...
A frequent reader of William Lloyd Garrison’s, “Liberator,” Nell joined the antislavery movement and began working for the Liberator newspaper in the 1840s. At many of the antislavery functions in Boston, he was Garrison’s personal representative. He was also active in the Underground Railroad. In 1851, he became assistant to Frederick Douglass and soon after published his own pamphlet on “Colored American Patriots” in the Revolution and the War of 1812. This evolved into the book for which he is best known. Nell drew his stories from personal accounts, cemetery records, and research. His book includes an introduction by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe. Nell is acknowledged to be the first Black federal employee of the United States, having been employed in the Boston Post Office in 1863. After the Civil War ended, he worked to identify the efforts of the Black soldiers. Many consider Nell to be the first African-American historian.
Here he researches the service of the 44th Colored Infantry, which saw action at Battle of Dalton, Ga., October 13, 1864. and at the Battle of Nashville, Tenn., December 15-16. Autograph Letter Signed, Boston, June 5, 1866, to journalist and abolitionist James Redpath. At the time he received this letter, he was in South Carolina (then under federal military occupation), having been appointed by General Sherman superintendent of public schools in that state. “Many thanks for the leaves from your journal so kindly loaned me and herewith returned. I would like at a moment convenient for you to be posted with regard to the fight at Dalton, Georgia. Was it? You repeat the charge of the 44th Colored Regiment. I find elsewhere good mention made of the 4th U.S. Infantry. Is it a mistake, or were the 44th and 4th in the fight? I have been much interested with your Evening Post article on the Colored aristocrats of South Carolina.” We have never before seen a letter of Nell, an important civil rights trailblazer. To say this is a rarity is an underestimate.
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