Mary Seacole was a Jamaican nurse and medicine woman for British soldiers during the Crimean War, which was fought between the Russians and the British, French, and Ottoman Turkish. Seacole was born Mary Jane Grant in Kingston in 1805. Her father was a Scottish white man and her mother was a free black Jamaican woman. Seacole learned medicine from her mother, who cared for the sick in her boarding house. In 1836, Grant married Edwin Horatio Seacole. The couple traveled to the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean where Seacole was educated on medicines to treat various illnesses. Unfortunately, Horatio Seacole passed away after only eight years of marriage.
In 1854, Seacole asked to help the British soldiers on the front line in four separate requests, but was refused because of her race. Instead, she set up a store in a hotel to sell supplies and remedies. She also helped to treat the soldiers at the local hospital and even walked the battlefield with the soldiers that she sometimes referred to as her “sons.” The men often referred to her a “Florence” in reference to Florence Nightingale. Seacole was known for the best cholera and dysentery medicine, which were likely Creole remedies learned from her mother’s instruction.
Sadly, after returning to England, Seacole later declared bankruptcy. Things turned around again when she published a best-selling autobiography called “The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands” in 1857. She was also financially rewarded by the Prince of Wales for her heroism during the war. Once the word got out about her work with the soldiers, she was acknowledged with decorations from France, England, and Turkey. She left a legacy with the Royal Family as close confidant.
Mary Seacole passed away in 1881 at age 76. She is buried in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery Kensal Green in London.
She was also listed first on the UK’s 100 Great Black Britons poll in 2004.