Mary Seacole was born Mary Jane Grant in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. A mixed raced woman, her mother was Jamaican and her father Scottish. In her autobiography Mary referred to herself as Creole. Legally, she was called a Mulatto, a term equivalent to Negro or Colored. In fact, Colored is a term that originally meant one of mixed race before being widely accepted as something to which to refer to all blacks. Although retaining its name in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in Britain it was the accepted term for black, Asian, or mixed-race people until the 1960s.
In any event, I find it interesting that blacks are the only people whose nationality changes in such a way. We have been and are called: Colored, Negro, Mulatto, Creole, Black, Afro-American, African American and of course the N word. Blacks from different eras literally have different classifications on their birth certificates. These are not nationalities. These are bywords, proverbs, and mockeries.
Nevertheless, Mary was a nurse in the Crimean War and learned from her mother who was also a Nurse and worked in a boarding house nursing soldiers. Mary’s mother was also what was considered a traditional healer. Traditional healer usually refers to the use of natural herbs and earth grown roots that are used instead of modern medicine. It combines knowledge, skills, and practices based on beliefs, and experiences of different cultures.
In 1836, Mary married Edwin Seacole, a naval officer who sadly, died in 1844. I imagine this was hard on Mary since her mom died shortly before her husband.
Mary traveled a lot which I love considering I also love to travel. She visited other parts of the Caribbean, including Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas, as well as Central America and Britain before her marriage. On these trips, she combined her knowledge of traditional medicine that she got from her mom with European medicine and after her husband’s death remained in Kingston where she spent time in Panama nursing during the start of the Cholera Epidemic.
In 1853, Mary applied for the Florence Nightingale’s Nursing Team at the start of the Crimean War but was refused. Instead of giving up, Mary went to the location anyway with her own money and came to assist in the healing of people at the military hospitals and distributed remedies for cholera and dysentery.
Mary also opened the British Hotel near Balaclava in 1855 which served also as an officer’s club and served food. Using the Hotel as a foundation, Mary loaded mules with food, wine and medicine and brought these to the battlefield to help the soldiers. She received special passes that allowed her to look after the wounded and the dying.
One of the things I love about Mary’s story is that it does not end badly as many stories do. When she returned to London she was bankrupt because of the soldiers who ran up tabs at the hotel, but newspapers started a campaign to help raise money for Mary backed by money funded by the British Army. In 1857, her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, became a Bestseller and the Seacole Fund helped her to live comfortably in Paddington, London, until her death in 1881. All the good Mary had done to others had been returned to her.