May 6, 1812: Activist and Physician Martin Delany Born in Jefferson County


Activist and physician Martin Delanywas born a free African-American at Charles Town in Jefferson County on May 6, 1812. When Delany was 10, his family had to flee Charles Town for violating a Virginia law that forbid educating blacks. They settled in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Delany eventually moved on to Pittsburgh, where he became a medical assistant.

In 1843, Martin Delany founded and published an abolitionist newspaper that struck a profound tone against slavery. Four years later, he shut down the paper to become co-editor of Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, the North Star. After attending Harvard Medical College in 1850, Delany returned to Pittsburgh and opened a medical practice.

During the 1850s, he became involved with the Underground Railroad and moved to Canada. In 1858—the year before John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry—he brought Brown together with other abolitionists in Canada. However, Delany had no direct involvement in the raid.

In 1865, Martin Delany was commissioned a major in the U.S. Colored Troops—the only African-American officer to be given a field command during the Civil War. He died in Ohio in 1885 at age 72.