Cathay Williams

Cathay Williams, 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 11 x 14 in.

Cathay Williams 1844 – 1893

Cathay Williams was an African-American soldier who enlisted in the United States Army under the pseudonym William Cathay. She was the first Black woman to enlist, and the only documented woman to serve in the United States Army posing as a man during the American Indian Wars.

Williams was born to an enslaved mother and a free father in Independence, Missouri in 1844. In 1861, Union forces occupied Jefferson City during the early stages of the Civil War. At this time, captured slaves were officially designated as contraband and were forced to serve in military support roles such as cooks, laundresses, or nurses.

Wanting to be in the infantry, she enlisted at 17 as a man. Williams served under the service of General Philip Sheridan and witnessed the Red River Campaign and the Battle of Pea Ridge.