I just returned from a week’s vacation in St. Augustine, Florida. It is the United States’s oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States.
Scattered among the peaceful grounds of the Nombre De Dios grounds in St. Augustine – a mission dating in the U.S. back to 1565 – are a number of marked graves, including a handful of official U.S. Civil War military headstones of members of the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops Regiment.
I took photos of the headstones, including the gravestone of Paul Wilson. Tonight, just back in Maine from St. Augustine, I learned that Paul Wilson was the 33rd USCT’s drummer boy, dead at age 15. What are the odds a lifelong drummer, drum historian, and former managing editor of Modern Drummer would a) be at Nombre De Dios, b) take notice of Paul Wilson’s gravestone, c) take a photo of the headstone, and d) take time to research the headstone and discover a kindred drummer spirit.
How vast is the great heritage of drumming.
Here is an entry of Paul Wilson on one web page: Drummer: Paul Wilson – Age 15, St. Augustine, 5ft 4in, black, black, black. Mustered in December 19, 1863 in Beaufort by Thibadeau. Buried on the grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios.
During the Civil War thousands of enslaved Floridians escaped from their owners and found refuge in the Union-occupied towns of Fernandina, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Key West, where they were considered “contraband of war” and were not returned to their former owners. They found work on the abandoned plantations in the area controlled by Union forces, built fortifications, worked as teamsters for the Federal troops. As soon as Union policy permitted, more than 1000 self-liberated men from northeast Florida farms and plantations who settled into the swelling refugee camps outside the coastal towns, began joining three Union regiments organized at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Known originally as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd South Carolina Loyal Volunteers, these regiments were officially mustered into the Union Army as the 33rd, 34th, and 21st regiments of United States Colored Infantry. For the remainder of the war these once-enslaved black men fought to free their families and other Africans Americans from bondage, and to bring a permanent end to slavery in the United States of America. By the end of the Civil War, 186,017 African American men from all over the divided nation had enlisted as “Colored Troops” in the Union army.