Civil War Wiki


File:Gould family.jpg

William and Cornelia Gould with their children.

William B. Gould (1837-May 25, 1923) was a former slave and veteran of the American Civil War.

On September 21, 1862, a slave named William Benjamin Gould (WBG) escaped with seven other slaves by rowing a small boat 28 nautical miles (52 km) down the Cape Fear River and out into the Atlantic Ocean where the USS Cambridge of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron picked them up as contraband. Prior to the escape, Gould had been working as a plasterer at an antebellum mansion (now named the Bellamy Mansion) in Wilmington, North Carolina. He appears to have been owned by Nicholas Nixon, a peanut planter and slave owner in Wilmington.

After his escape, Gould joined the U.S. Navy and believed he was "defending the holiest of all causes, Liberty and Union."[1] Beginning with his time on the Cambridge and continuing through his discharge at the end of the war he kept a diary of his day-to-day activities. According to John Hope Franklin, WBG's Diary is one of three known diaries in existence written during the Civil War by former slaves. In the diary, WBG chronicles his trips to the northeastern United States, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and England.[2]. The diary is distinguished not only by its details and eloquent tone, but also by its author's reflections on the conduct of the war, his own military engagements, race, race relations in the Navy, and what African Americans might expect after the war and during Reconstruction.

After he was discharged from the Navy at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Massachusetts, he married Cornelia Read[1] in November 1865.[3] Cornelia was a former slave who was then living on Nantucket and they corresponded throughout the war. The Goulds moved to Milton Street in Dedham, Massachusetts, and together they had two daughters and six sons. In Dedham, Gould "became a building contractor and community pillar."[4]


William Gould with the GAR on Dedham's 250th anniversary.

Gould "took great pride in his work" when he resumed work as a plasterer and helped to build the new St. Mary's Church.[1] One of his employees improperly mixed the plaster and even though it was not visible by looking at it, Gould insisted that it be removed and reapplied correctly.[1] Gould helped to build the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepard in Oakdale Square, though as a parishioner and not as a contractor. It may have been the Episcopal church he attended in Wilmington as a slave that taught him to read and write, and thus to be able to keep his diary.[1]

Gould was extremely active in the Charles W. Carroll Post 144 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). He "held virtually every position that it was possible to hold in the GAR from the time he joined [in 1882] until his death in 1923, including the highest post, commander, in 1900 and 1901." Five of his sons would fight in the World War I and one in the Spanish-American War. A photo of the six sons and their father, all in military uniform, would appear in the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, in December 1917.[3] Gould's great-grandson would describe them as "a family of fighters."[1]

He died on or about May 25, 1923, at the age of 85 and was interred at Brookdale Cemetery in Dedham. The Dedham Transcript reported his death under the headline "East Dedham Mourns Faithful Soldier and Always Loyal Citizen: Death Came Very Suddenly to William B. Gould, Veteran of the Civil War."[1]

His great-grandson, William B. Gould IV, served as chair of the National Labor Relations Board from 1994 to 1998 and edited his great-grandfather's diary into a book titled Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor.

See also[]

  • Wilmington, North Carolina, in the Civil War
  • USS Cambridge (1860)
  • List of United States Navy ships
  • American Civil War
  • Union Navy
  • Confederate States Navy


External links[]