Dr. Martin Robinson Delany was born on the 6th of May, 1812 in Charles Town, West Virginia, U.S.A, the second of 5 children, born to his parents were Samuel Delany and the former Pati Martha Peace. His father was a slave, but his mother was a free person. His grandparents were African. His mother moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1822 where it was not a crime for a black person to learn to read and write. In 1823, his father purchased his freedom and travelled to Chambersburg be with his family.
In 1831, Dr. Delany moved to Pittsburgh and attended Lewis Woodson’s African Education Society School, while supporting himself as a barber. In 1832 he worked as a physician’s assistant during a cholera epidemic. Dr. Delany worked with many doctors, gaining knowledge and their respect, but was repeatedly turned down at Medical Schools. Dr. Delany founded Mystery, a respected, weekly abolitionist newspaper that concerned itself with economic, social and political issues affecting black Americans. Dr. Delany stopped producing the paper in 1847 and joined Frederick Douglass as co-editor of the North Star in December of 1847. Dr. Delany resigned in 1849 and focused on his Pittsburgh medical practice. In 1850 with letters of recommendation from the physicians he had worked with he was finally accepted into Harvard Medical School. After a few weeks, he was asked to leave under protest from fellow white students.
He had married Catherine Richards in 1843 and they had 11 children, Genefred L’Ouverture, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Catherine Matilda, Martha Priscilla, Charles Lenox Remond, Martin Boling, Alexandre Dumas, St. Cyprian, Faustin Soulouque, Placido Rameses and Ethiopia Hallie Amelia.
After he left Harvard, Dr. Delany wrote The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States. In August of 1854, Dr. Delany helped to organize the National Emigration Convention of Colored People and met with 106 delegates in Cleveland, Ohio to consider emigration to South America, Central America or the West Indies. Dr. Delany and his family moved to Chatham, Ontario in 1856. He had a practice located on King Street. In May of 1858 Dr. Delany participated in John Brown’s Convention held in Chatham on May 8th, 1858. In the Spring of 1859, after 3 years of planning, Dr. Delany travelled to Liberia. In December of 1859, Dr. Delany and his partner school teacher Robert Campbell acquired land for a settlement through a treaty with the King of Abeokuta. The purpose was to establish a free-labor settlement in Africa. Dr. Delany and Mr. Campbell travelled to England in May of 1860, so Dr. Delany could engage in a speaking tour to raise funds and awareness of his African plans.
Upon his return to the United States, he joined the Civil War effort, and served as a recruiting agent for black soldiers. He became a surgeon with the 104th Colored Unit. In 1865 he was made a Major, becoming the first black man to achieve this commission. Earlier that year, he had met with President Abraham Lincoln, who was much impressed with him. Dr. Delany was posted to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. After the war, he was unsuccessful in 1874, in a bid to become Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina.
For a time, he practiced in Charleston, South Carolina. He was an advocate of rights for Black Persons, all his life, at a time when it was dangerous to do so. He worked for the Freedman’s Bureau seeking a black person’s right to vote.
Dr. Delany died on the 24th of January, 1885 in Wilberforce, Ohio. He was buried at Massies Creek Cemetery, Cedarville, Green County, Ohio. Mrs. Delany died on the 11th of July, 1894 in Wilberforce, Ohio.
Reference: The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volumn II Canada, 1830-1865.