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11x14 inches

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William Cathay

William Cathy was born to a free man but also a slave woman, and as such, was a slave. They worked as a house slave on the Johnson Plantation near Jefferson City, Missouri. As far as we know, William Cathay was the first African American female to enlist in the army as a man. When the Union Army occupied their area, they enlisted in the 38th Infantry (an African American segregated unit) under his chosen name. There, they served a three-year assignment before health concerns possibly resulting from Small Pox caused them to be examined by a medical professional who discovered they were female, causing them to be discharged.

They then worked as a cook at Fort Union, New Mexico, and married a man, who later robbed them and tried to take off, but William Cathay had him arrested. They moved to Trinidad, Colorado where they worked as a seamstress and may have also owned a boarding house. In 1892, after losing their toes to neuralgia and diabetes, they applied for disability pension but were denied. They passed away shortly afterward.

Reference: National Park Service, “Re-Dressing: America’s Frontier Past” by Peter Boag

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