Lindsay Muse – a black American
Hunterdon County Democrat
June 19, 1888, Fiftieth Volume, No. 45
Lindsay Muse, a colored messenger in the Navy Department, died last Thursday afternoon of old age. He had the distinction of being the oldest employee in government service. He was appointed a messenger in the Navy Department in 1828, and served there continuously in that capacity to the day of his death. He served under twenty-seven different Secretaries and shook hands with every President from Monroe to Cleveland.
While researching my family tree online, I came across this entry in a compilation of old newspaper reports from the Hunterdon County Democrat, published in New Jersey. I had never heard of Lindsay Muse and began looking for more information. What I have found suggests that this black American would be a worthy inclusion in any Black History month observance.
The details of Muse’s early life are unclear. Various Census documents report his birth as either in 1802 or 1805, in Virginia. In 1827 he is recorded as being a waiter. In 1828, Samuel Southard, Secretary of the Navy, appointed him to be a messenger. In an era without telephone, fax machines or organized U.S. mail, this post was important and highly regarded. As a messenger, Lindsay Muse would have delivered documents to and from the Secretary of the Navy. He would have called at the White House, Congress and various departments in the government, as well as the Navy Yard. He earned a salary of $400 per year.
The 1850 Census lists Muse as having nine children. He also arranged to pay for the freedom of his half sister, Charlotte, in 1827. Her purchase cost him $200.
Lindsay Muse was a leader in Washington, D.C.’s black community for much of his adult life. After the Nat Turner rebellion caused whites in the District to close many schools for black children, he helped form the Smothers school in 1832. The school was built as a Sunday school.
Muse was also a trustee of Graceland Cemetery in D.C. The burial ground was predominately black and many prominent community figures, including Muse himself, were interred there. The cemetery was abandoned about 1890 and many of the deceased were moved to Woodlawn Cemetery. Lindsay Muse is now buried at Woodlawn. Muse died in June 1888.
Biography of Lindsay Muse (scroll down just past half way to find the Muse bio)
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