William D. Matthews

 William D. Matthews

William D. Matthews was born a Maryland slave, so information about his early years remains elusive. By 1854, Matthews was a Black pioneer in Leavenworth, Kansas, a stop on the Underground Railroad. He opened a restaurant that soon became the head station on the underground railway system, with Matthews the “general passenger traffic manager.” As manager, he helped numerous runaways reach safety through the Leavenworth connection, and continued his underground work until he enlisted in the Union army on February 27, 1862.

Between August 17 and November 25, 1862, Matthews recruited a company of 81 men for the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry. Because the state of Kansas had not officially authorized the recruitment of Colored troops, they could not be mustered into service, and therefore received no pay. In January 1863, the regiment was officially reorganized and mustered into service at Fort Scott, Kansas.

William D. Matthews mustered into the Federal service on July 7, 1864 as a first lieutenant in the Independent Battery, US Colored Light Artillery at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, becoming one of the 120 African-Americans commissioned as officers during the Civil War. He was promoted to first lieutenant on February 27, 1865, and assumed command of the battery when its captain became ill. He was mustered out of service on July 15, 1865.

During Price’s 1864 invasion of Missouri, Matthews was in Fort Scott, Kansas, recruiting for the Independent Battery, US Colored Light Artillery. So Matthews missed participating in the Battle of Westport, but worked to prepare the defenses in Fort Scott as Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri marched south.

Between 1868 and 1888, Matthews was one of the most influential black men in the Midwest serving as the First Grand Master for the Prince Hall Masons in the State of Kansas. Matthews went on to become one of the most influential and powerful black men in America serving from 1888-1904 as the Grand Master of the National Grand Lodge, Prince Hall Masons.