Thomas Morris Chester

Thomas Morris Chester was born at the corner of Third and Market Streets in Harrisburg in 1834. One of Harrisburg's most famous nineteenth century African Americans, he was particularly known for his leadership in education, journalism, military recruitment, international diplomacy, and the legal profession.

Chester served as a recruiter and helped usher Pennsylvania Black men into the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments. He later helped to raise federal United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments from his home state. Chester created and led two companies of Blacks for local defense during the Gettysburg Campaign in 1863. According to the Harrisburg Telegraph, this was the first time Pennsylvania issued weapons to African Americans. Chester ended the war as a correspondent for the Philadelphia Press, traveling with the Army of the Potomac.

After the war, Chester moved to England where he studied law and was admitted to the bar, perhaps becoming the first Black barrister. Returning to the United States, Chester held several posts in Louisiana, including collector of customs, brigadier general of militia and superintendent of schools. Becoming ill in 1892, he returned to Harrisburg and died in his mother's home at 305 Chestnut Street. Chester is buried in Penbrook's Lincoln Cemetery.