Seal's zeal unwavering when it comes to Invincible Grays

Barbara S. Miller/Observer-Reporter

At Courthouse Square, Walter Seal of Monongahela discussed Capt. W.A. Colling, who guided a steamboat much like the one manned by T. Morgan Jones. Seal displays the photograph he purchased from the estate of Dorothy Catlin in the 1980s. He also holds an iron bracelet detected with permission from beneath the grounds of former slave quarters near Richmond, Va.

A few days after presenting information to Washington County Commissioners in conjunction with Black History Month, Walter Seal of Carroll Township was reminded of another artifact from his collection.

Seal has a document from Constable John Ross of Tavernestown, Mt. Pleasant Township, who wrote a report to the Court of Common Pleas June 24, 1822, observing among other peacekeeping duties, “no slaves or mulattoes were imported into the county.”

Seal estimated he acquired the nearly 200-year-old report about 20 years ago.

Pennsylvania had passed an act of the Legislature in 1780 to gradually emancipate slaves. But slavery existed in Pennsylvania, by some counts as late as the 1840 census, just 21 years before the start of the start of the Civil War.

Last week, Seal gave Washington County Commissioners information about civil rights leaders from the 1800s, all connected with Seal’s passion, recognition for “The Invincible Grays,” which Seal views as the first all-black unit in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Seal credited T. Morgan Jones, a fugitive slave from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia who traveled through Maryland and into Somerset County, where he gained an education. In 1855, Jones found employment on steamboats that plied the Monongahela River.

When the Civil War broke out, he formed a company of black freedmen who were rejected from serving in the Union Army. After the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the race-based edict was altered. Jones died “from wounds he received while leading a charge with his men of the 127th U.S. Colored Troops.

“He lingered until Nov. 15, 1866, and died in the arms of his protegé, William Hilton Catlin,” Seal said.

Catlin advocated that then-Gov. John W. Geary and his successor, John F. Hartranft, form a company of all African-American men for militia duty. On Sept. 8, 1871, the Keystone Guard was formed. The City of Monongahela had one unit for black men and another for white men.

First Lt. Mark Hilton, whom Seal believes may have been the brother-in-law of William Hilton Catlin, later resigned from his leadership position and Second Lt. William H. Jones was promoted to first lieutenant. Sgt. Joseph R. Griffey, whom Seal identified as an ancestor of former Major League Baseball players Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr., was elected second lieutenant.

During the Great Railroad strike of 1877, members of both companies guarded the Pennsylvania Railroad depot in Monongahela and were told to continue their duty through the night.

“Jones was put in command of both sets of troops,” Seal said, which may have been a first for a black officer being placed in charge of white troops.

While the black troops “participated courageously, it became apparent that they might have to fire on white people, so on July 31, 1877, they were disbanded due to the expiration of their term of service, and honorably discharged,” Seal said.

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