When Black Union soldiers captured the city of Richmond, and took over the Confederate capital, Thomas Morris Chester was there with them reporting on their brave actions for the Philadelphia Press newspaper.
Thomas was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on May 11, 1834. His mother had been enslaved. She escaped slavery, on her own, in 1825. Little is known about his father’s early life.
Both of Thomas’ parents were abolitionists and active in the anti-slavery movement. They owned an oyster restaurant which also served as a meeting place for Black activists. Thomas grew up with a desire to fight for a better life for Black Americans and became active in the anti-slavery movement with his parents.
When Thomas was a young man, there a movement to get Black Americans to emigrate to Liberia, a country in Africa, for a better life. Thomas who was, tired of the indignities Black Americans faced became part of the movement.
In April 1853 he left the United States and went to Liberia where he planned to attend school. He was not pleased with the school and before long returned to America.
Thomas continued his activism and when the Civil War started, recruited Black soldiers for the Union Army. He later became a Civil War correspondent for the Philadelphia Press newspaper and reported on the activities of Black soldiers on the front lines in Virginia. Thomas was the only Black reporter for a major daily newspaper during the war. He traveled with the 25th Army Corp, which was part of the 7th United States Colored Troops and reported on their actions during the final year of the war, including their role in taking Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.
Thomas’ reporting was the only first-hand account of what Black soldiers experienced fighting on the front lines during the Civil War.