James M. Trotter

From Ohio History Central

James Monroe Trotter served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War and, following this conflict, became the first African American to find employment in the Boston, Massachusetts division of the United States Post Office.

Trotter was born in Grand Gulf, Mississippi on November 8, 1842. His mother, Letitia, was a slave, and his father was Richard S. Trotter, his mother's owner. Letitia, Trotter, and his brother eventually escaped slavery, making their way to Cincinnati, Ohio, where James Trotter enrolled in the Gilmer School. He also attended the Albany Academy in Athens County, Ohio, where he received training as a schoolteacher. Upon graduating from this institution, Trotter taught in African-American schools in Pike, Muskingum, and Ross Counties, Ohio.

In June 1863, Trotter enlisted in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. By the American Civil War's conclusion, Trotter had attained the rank of second lieutenant. Upon leaving the military, Trotter returned to Ohio, settling in Chillicothe, where he married Virginia Isaacs in 1868. Some people claim that Isaacs was the daughter of President Thomas Jefferson and Mary Hemings, a slave woman. While much evidence suggests that Jefferson fathered several children with Sally Hemings, Mary Hemings's half sister and one of Jefferson's slaves, it does not appear that Virginia Isaacs was a descendent of Jefferson.

The Trotters eventually moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where James Trotter became the first African American to secure employment in the Boston branch of the United States Post Office. Trotter remained in this position for several years, but he eventually quit this job, unhappy that whites with fewer or the same years of experience as him were routinely promoted over him.

Undaunted by the racism that he faced, Trotter continued to advance himself. He published a book, Music and Some Highly Musical People, in 1880. In 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Trotter to a position in the Recorder of Deeds Office, making Trotter one of the earliest African Americans to hold a position in this office. Trotter died on February 26, 1892.

Trotter illustrates the prejudice that existed in Ohio during the years before the American Civil War. Ohio was a state that did not allow slavery. Nevertheless, that did not mean that whites were open to granting African Americans equal rights. Free blacks found that it was difficult to get fair treatment, and they often formed their own communities and institutions away from whites. Despite facing racism, many African Americans, including Trotter, actively sought to improve their lives.

See Also


  1. Stevenson, Robert. "America's First Black Music Historian." Journal of the American Musicological Society 26 (Autumn 1973): 383-404.
  2. Trotter, James M. Music and Some Highly Musical People. N.P.: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1981.