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Martin Robison Delany


Activist and physician Martin Robison Delany (May 6, 1812-January 24, 1885) was an African-American who was born free in Charles Town. In 1822, the Delany family was forced to flee for violating a Virginia law forbidding the education of Blacks. The family settled in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

In 1831, Delany moved to Pittsburgh. He studied medicine as an apprentice under Dr. Andrew N. McDowell and became his medical assistant. From 1843 to 1847, Martin Delany founded, edited, and published the Mystery, an abolitionist newspaper. He shut down the Mystery to become co-editor of Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, the North Star. After attending Harvard Medical College in 1850, Delany returned to Pittsburgh and opened a medical practice.

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act inspired Delany to publish The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, And Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, in 1852. Working with the Underground Railroad, he moved to Chatham, Canada. In 1858, he aided John Brown in convening the Chatham Convention. Afterward, he explored the Niger Valley region of Africa as a possible site for African-American emigration.

In 1861, Delany published Blake: or, The Huts of America, a fictional work detailing the horrors of slavery. In February 1865, he was commissioned as a major in the U.S. Colored Troops. He was the only African-American Civil War officer to be given a field command. He died in Wilberforce, Ohio.

In 2017, a new highway bridge across the Shenandoah River in Jefferson County was named the Major Martin Robison Delany Memorial Bridge.

Written by Joseph Bundy


  1. Delany, Martin R. The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States. Philadelphia: 1852, Reprint, Ayer, 1988.

  2. Levine, Robert S., ed. Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

  3. Rollin, Frank A. The Life and Public Service of Martin R. Delany. Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1883, Reprint, Ayer, 1970.

  4. Sterling, Dorothy. The Making of An Afro-American: Martin Robison Delany. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.