Charles S.L.A. Taylor: Commander of the First Black Fire Company in Charlotte


Firefighter; Soldier; Slavery


Charles Taylor was born into slavery, yet he fought to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond the realm of slavery. As a result, he rose from utter obscurity to heights of fame, popularity, and fortune.

Taylor was enslaved in Union County, North Carolina, before the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. He made shoes for A. A. Laney and Patterson Houston. Though born a captive, the Taylors family were among the prominent African Americans in Charlotte.

Under the Confederate government contract, Taylor made shoes from wood and cloth because of a leather shortage. These shoes adorned the feet of soldiers fighting for the right to keep him enslaved.

Family Life

Charles Samuel Lafayette Alexander Taylor was born in North Carolina in 1849. His parents were George Taylor and Harriet Glover. In 1869 he married Augusta Wheeler. They had three sons, John, George, and Charles, who served in the United States Army.

His first wife died in 1904, and a year later, he married Ella Louise Pickens. They bore two daughters, Harriet, born in 1906, and Louise, 1909. In addition, the couple assumed custody of James Franklin Richardson, Taylors’ nephew, born in 1926. Taylor passed away on 19 Sept 1934 in Charlotte, Mecklenburg, North Carolina, USA.

Education and Career

After the Civil War, Taylor attended the Quaker freedmen schools and became a barber by profession. He opened his barber shop on East Trade Street in Charlotte.

Taylor worked as a captain and financial secretary of the Neptune Volunteer Fire Company, a local African American fire company. He served as a firefighter and was involved with state and national fire service organizations. He worked as a financial secretary in the Colored Volunteer Firemen’s Association in North Carolina for 18 years till his demise.

 Civic and Political Endeavors

Taylor took part in many civic and political causes. He served as Mecklenburg County Black Republican Delegation’s chairman.

Between 1885 and 1887, he served as an alderman representing the third ward of Charlotte. In 1887, Taylor organized a pure African American national guard company in Charlotte, serving as captain.

This company transitioned into the Third North Carolina Regiment of Volunteers during the Spanish American War. Taylor became the lieutenant colonel of the organization.

Memorable Collections

The Atkins Library and UNC Archives have an album for the Taylor family. In addition, the collection has photographs, portraits, and documented materials.

Other contents of the album are Charles Taylor’s will, obituaries, condolence letters, and death certificates of family members. Besides, it has birthday cards, historical sketches, newspaper clippings, stock certificates, cemetery plots, and land purchase details.

Significant Monuments

Colonel Taylor commanded the first fire apparatus (Neptune) reenactment by Charlotte Fire Department (the first black fire company).  It was displayed at Elmwood Pinewood Cemetery in Charlotte. This apparatus displays at Charlotte Fire Department Headquarters.


Taylor was a member of an African American state militia unit called the Charlotte Light Infantry.

Later, he became a Colored Knights of Pythias member, a black fraternal organization. On July 20, 1920, this organization wrote a letter to the North Carolina Governor, Thomas W. Bickett, asking for improvements in race relations related to racial violence, rape, and lynching.

The Colored Knights of Pythias came into the limelight because the original/ white Knights of Pythias, founded in 1864, would not allow non-whites to join.

The Colored Knights enjoyed the pride and civic spirit of African Americans expressed by a special headgear, a helmet’s horsehair plume, gilded straps, and heraldic crest. This artifact was symbolic of building vibrant communities, improving lives, and combating segregation.

Charles Taylor emanated from a humble background, yet he made a king-size impact in his lifetime. Plato rightfully says: “Every king springs from a race of slaves, and every slave has had kings among his ancestors.”


The Black Male Archives


1. Black History and Civil Rights – Charles Samuel Lafayette Alexander Taylor

2. Charles Samuel Lafayette Alexander Taylor

3. Taylor and Richardson family’s album


Preservation Publishing LLC


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