Just under the treeline on the northern border of Harrisville's Prairie Cemetery lies the final resting place of Private Jacob Peck, the only known soldier of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) buried in Butler County.
While relatively little is known about his life, Jacob Peck was one of the approximately 180,000 black men whose military service aided the United States in achieving military victory, and securing one of the great advancements for African American freedom in the nation's history.
John Peck and Eliza Clifford were married on March 11, 1824 in what is now Hardy County, West Virginia. Both John and Eliza were natives of Virginia and identified as mulatto, part of a free black community in that county. Sometime prior to 1850, the couple moved to Meadville, Pennsylvania where John worked as a laborer to support their large family of six children.
One of their sons, Jacob Peck, apprenticed and lived with an established barber, Richard Henderson. Besides being a barber, Henderson was also an influential figure in Meadville’s black community. Born a slave in Maryland in 1801, Henderson escaped slavery at the age of fifteen along with his two brothers and one sister. In 1824, he became Meadville’s first permanent black resident, establishing a barber shop with his brother Robert.
Beginning in the 1830s, Henderson became a leader in the abolitionist movement and, later, the Underground Railroad. One of his sons would later note that there as many as twenty runaway slaves hiding in their house at any one time. Henderson also worked to establish Meadville’s Bethel A.M.E Church.
Possibly as a result of Henderson’s influence, Jacob Peck decided to enlist in the Union Army during the American Civil War. African Americans were first officially authorized to take part in federal service after the Second Confiscation and Militia Act of July 17, 1862. Following the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the federal government began formally recruiting black military regiments. On May 22, 1863, War Department General Order No. 143 established the Bureau of Colored Troops, which worked to organize and coordinate black regiments from across the country. The bureau operated under the Adjutant General’s Office, while adhering to specific procedures and rules. Under the bureau all African American regiments were to be designated United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Peck enlisted in Company H of the 43rd Regiment of the United States Colored Troops on April 15, 1864. Most of the men that served in the 43rd were natives of Pennsylvania. The regiment was organized at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from March 12 to June 3, 1864. The regiment saw action in several major campaigns of the war, including the Wilderness Campaign, the siege of Petersburg, and the Appomattox Campaign. After the surrender of Robert E. Lee, Peck joined his regiment in service on the Rio Grande River, until being mustered out on October 20. 1865 and discharged at Philadelphia, PA on November 30, 1865. During service, the regiment lost 3 officers and 48 enlisted men killed in action, along with 188 enlisted men who died from disease.
On his service cards, Peck is noted as being 5’ 5” and having black eyes, black hair, and a black complexion. After the war, he returned to his work as a barber in Harrisville, Pennsylvania. He died in 1880 and was buried in the Prairie Cemetery in Harrisville. Peck was provided a military headstone in 1935.