Peter Farley Fossett was an entrepreneur, pastor, and part of the Black Brigade, a group of black soldiers.
Fossett was born a slave, according to his own account, “at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s beautiful Virginia home, on June 6, 1815, just before Waterloo.” He was the son of enslaved blacksmith Joseph Fossett and Monticello’s chief enslaved cook, Edith Hern Fossett, and a great-grandson of Elizabeth Hemings.
In later life, 35, Fossett gained his freedom. Fossett became well-known throughout the black community. His wife Sarah Fossett was a hairdresser to the rich and famous women of the city. The Fossetts helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom by way of Cincinnati and were co-founders of the First Baptist Church of Cumminsville.
In September 1862, when the Confederate Army was heading north to Cincinnati from Lexington, Kentucky, all men were ordered to volunteer to defend the city. Free African Americans were willing to serve but many Union soldiers balked at the notion of serving side by side with black soldiers. Without warning, over 400 black soldiers were rounded up and held in a holding pen. They were marched across the river and forced to build fortifications in Northern Kentucky. Abolitionists citywide complained and the men were released. Then, they voluntarily answered the call to build fortifications to protect the city, causing the enemy to retreat. Many of those soldiers, known as the Black Brigade, later enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, led by Robert Gould Shaw.