Past Event

Ann Stokes: African American Civil War Nurse

A Road Scholar Program by Marlene Rivero

Storyteller and living history actor Marlene Rivero portrays Ann Stokes, who is believed to have been the first African American woman to serve on board a U.S. military vessel.

Born enslaved in Tennessee in 1830 and later a resident of the “contraband camp” in Mound City, Illinois, Stokes was taken aboard a Union ship in January 1863, just after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. She volunteered to serve as a nurse on the first Union hospital ship, the U.S.S. Red Rover, a steamboat that had been captured from the Confederacy. The ship traveled the Mississippi and other interior rivers, venturing deep into Confederate territory to treat sick and injured Union military personnel.

Under the direction of the Sisters of the Order of the Holy Cross, Stokes and her fellow nurses treated almost 3,000 patients onboard. Stokes served until October 1864, married another “contraband” member of the U.S.S. Red Rover crew, and lived the remainder of her life in southern Illinois. She applied successfully for a pension for her own service in the U.S. Navy, becoming, according to some sources, the first woman ever to do so. Rivero presents a first-person account of Stokes’s inspiring fortitude.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Beverly Krakovec at