Stories of Old Nansemond: Musician Zachariah Taylor Hunter, Holy Neck

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 9, 2020. All rights reserved.

According to his enlistment record, Musician Zachariah Taylor Hunter, Company I, 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, was born about 1849, in the Blackwater District of (former) Princess Anne County, Virginia, now known as the Independent City of Virginia Beach. He was the son of Taylor Johnson (ca. 1798-1876), and Millie Hunter (b. ca. 1820). Subsequent vital records note Zachariah’s date of birth between 1845 and 1850.

Blackwater, Virginia Beach, May 22, 2013. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Blackwater, Virginia Beach, May 22, 2013. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Blackwater, Virginia Beach, May 22, 2013. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Zachariah enlisted on September 16, 1863, in Hampton, Virginia, and mustered into service on October 28, 1863, at Portsmouth, Virginia. Based on his stated age of fourteen upon enlistment, Zachariah T. Hunter may have been the youngest documented member of the 36th United States Colored Infantry.

As a musician, young Zachariah and his band mates may have done more for the men of the 36th Regiment than to boost morale and provide entertainment. In service, musicians were known to help draw new recruits, and inspire soldiers before and during battles. Some musicians functioned as ad hoc medical assistants in field hospitals, or assisted in efforts to evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield, or bury the dead.

The Maryland colored regiment, recruited here, made a dress parade this morning from their encampment, near the Park, through the city, attracting great attention. The regiment appeared with full ranks of about 1,000 men, and made a splendid appearance, and had a full brass band of colored musicians. Another regiment is rapidly forming here.

The Evening Star, September 17, 1863
Musicians with the 107th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, Arlington, Virginia. Library of Congress

Zachariah mustered out of service on September 20, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, a sandy barrier island in Cameron County, Texas. Later, he returned to the Holy Neck District of Nansemond County (now the City of Suffolk), and married Miss Sarah Alice Howell. Zachariah passed away on January 17, 1939, and was interred in Mount Sinai Baptist Church cemetery.

I didn’t have a chance to visit Mr. Hunter during my first visit to historic Mount Sinai in 2013. Subsequent visits were postponed out of respect for family descendants in the cemetery. Mr. Hunter is laid to rest next to his wife, Sarah Alice Howell Hunter.

Grave of Musician Zachariah Taylor Hunter, as seen on May 9, 2020. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Mount Sinai Baptist Church and cemetery, May 9, 2020. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Sources: U. S. Federal Census Records, Death Certificates, Ancestry; Manjerovic, Maureen and Michael J. Budds. “More Than A Drummer Boy’s War: A Historical View of Musicians in the American Civil War.” College Music Symposium, Vol. 42 (Oct. 2002). JSTOR (https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374427?seq=1 : 2020); “Civil War Soldiers – Union – Colored Troops 36th-40th Infantry.” Database. Fold3. https://wwwfold3.com : 2020).

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