Thomas Morris Chester was a notable American war correspondent, lawyer, and soldier who participated in the American Civil War and was born to abolitionists, George and Jane Marie Chester.
Chester was educated in Pennsylvania where he was born, Liberia, Vermont, and London. At the beginning of the Civil War, he lived in England before returning to the United States.
According to HistoryNet's article entitled Thomas Morris Chester: First Black War Reporter on the Frontlines,
Thomas Morris Chester never picked up a gun during the Civil War, but he fought as vigorously for black rights as any soldier who stormed an enemy stronghold. A pathbreaker for his race throughout his life, he faced real danger as an African American war correspondent serving at the Virginia front. Chester knew full well that if Confederates captured him they might shoot him outright, or even worse, sell him into slavery.
Chester's father made a living selling oyster and his family had a restaurant in Harrisburg. This would be how his parents could afford to send their children to college. Of his family's 12 children, only six would live to adulthood.
In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, which gave broad powers to U.S. marshals and special commissioners to capture and return runaway slaves. The law prevented African Americans from testifying while providing every advantage to white slave catchers. Even free blacks feared for their safety. (Source.)
Although Chester's mother had run away from slavery 25 years earlier, she was concerned about this new law. At that time, Chester was aware of many African-Americans going up to Canada. It was also when he decided to go to Liberia. Chester tried to persuade African-Americans to go to Liberia, but with the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, many chose to stay because they saw the United States as their home.
Chester served as a recruiter of black troops into the Union Army. It was also the first time Pennsylvania issued weapons to African-Americans. From August 1864 to the end of the Civil War in May 1865, Chester worked as a war correspondent for The Philadelphia Press, which was a major daily newspaper. He was happy to jump at that opportunity when he was asked.
When the civil war ended, Chester toured Europe. He settled in London to study law in 1867 and became England's first African-American barrister when he was called to the bar on April 30, 1870.
In 1871, Chester returned to the United States and settled in Louisiana. He practiced law there and was also a brigadier-general of the militia and superintendent of schools in 1875.
In 1884, Chester was elected President of the Wilmington, Wrightsville, and Onslow Railroad.
He returned to Pennsylvania due to an illness and passed away at the age of 58 in his mother's home. Chester is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook, Pennsylvania.
Chester fought for racial equality and was known for having a fearless character. According to Pennsylvania Civil War Trails, Chester was:
One of Harrisburg's most famous nineteenth century African Americans, he was particularly known for his leadership in education, journalism, military recruitment, international diplomacy, and the legal profession. (Source.)