It is with great esteem that the Traveler honors one of their own, Major George William Ford, Buffalo Soldier, 10th Calvary, L Troop and Major in the 23rd Kansas Volunteers. Major Ford was the grandfather of Elise F. Allen, founder and publisher of the Traveler Weekly Newspaper.
Ford, Major George William, (23 Nov. 1847 – 20 June 1939), U.S. military officer was born in Alexandria, Virginia, the son of William West and Henrietta Bruce Ford. George Ford was the great-grandson of West Ford, the African American son of George Washington.
George William Ford was born on the Mount Vernon plantation in a room above the spinning house. He was baptized at the age of five at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church where the Washington family worshipped. Though the Virginia state legislature forbade formal education of slaves and free blacks, George and his siblings, John, Daniel, Constance and Hannah, were educated at the Mount Vernon schoolhouse.
As a young boy, George sold pictures to tourists visiting Mount Vernon, where his grandfather, West Ford was the estate manager. He and his two brothers also became guardians of George Washington’s tomb. Prior to the Civil War, he and his parents moved to New York and stayed with his aunt and uncle, Mary Virginia and James Bell. The Bells owned a prominent boarding house on Broome Street, in New York City in the 1860s. George Ford was around 16 years of age during the New York Draft Riots of 1863. Military guards were placed at the Ford home to protect them from the predatory mobs of anti-black whites. The riots lasted for four days until the Federal soldiers put down the insurrection. Property valued at more than two million dollars was destroyed. After the Civil War, the Fords moved back to their property in Gum Springs, adjacent to the Mount Vernon Plantation. The Freedmen’s Bureau set up camp on a portion of the Gum Springs property for the newly freed slaves.
From the time he was a small boy, George William Ford desired to become a soldier. In 1867, at the age of 21, he enlisted with the legendary 10th Cavalry. Ford served with his regiment for 10 years before he was honorably discharged with the rank of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant in 1877. His commanding officer wrote on his discharge papers, “character excellent, good and faithful soldier.”
George Ford married Harriet Bythewood after his first stint in the army and they had eight children, George Jr., Irwin, Noel, Elise, Vera, Harriet, Cecil Bruce and Donald. Ford voluntarily enlisted at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War at the age of 50 with his eye on the prize – the rank of officer with the 23rd Kansas Volunteers.
During his time in Cuba, Major George Ford became personal friends with Theodore Roosevelt. When Roosevelt was running for vice president, Ford sat as a delegate from Kansas in the Philadelphia National Convention in June of 1900 in support of his candidacy. Theodore Roosevelt was accused of making some disparaging remarks in a Topeka, Kansas journal about the dependence of colored soldiers on their white officers during the Spanish-American War. George wrote to him with his concerns and sent the clippings for his review. Theodore Roosevelt wrote back that the colored troops under his command served honorably and that the article had misquoted him. (Manuscript Division from the Library of Congress, Reel 6, 324, 325). The two friends continued with their friendship and corresponded many more times through the ensuing years. Roosevelt was not the only president that Major Ford met in his lifetime. He remembered seeing Abraham Lincoln walking down Pennsylvania Avenue many times and remarked about his sad countenance and stooped figure. He was a witness to the sorrows and burdens of his lonely task as president during a time of crisis. Other presidents Ford had the honor of meeting were Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Thomas Woodrow Wilson.
After his tenure in the service, Major Ford met W.E.B. DuBois and accepted an advisory position as Secretary of the Army-Navy committee in the Niagara Movement, a precursor to the NAACP. The two men became lifelong friends, sharing in their belief of equal rights for blacks. After the disbanding of the Niagara Movement, Major Ford went on to become the first and only African American superintendent of three National Cemeteries.
Major Ford moved his family to Springfield, Illinois in 1906 where he accepted the position of Superintendent of Camp Butler National Cemetery. He later served as the first president of the Springfield, Illinois Branch of the NAACP. He was a firm believer that the black race had to be active in seeking their civil rights, lest they be taken from them.
Major George Ford continued a life of public service until his death in 1939 at the age of 91. He was honored with a full military funeral and was buried at Camp Butler Cemetery in Springfield. At his death, he was the last surviving member of the original 10th United States Calvary.