Powhatan Beaty MOH

b. 08/10/1837 Richmond, Virginia. d. 06/12/1916 Cincinnati, Ohio.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 29/09/1864 Chaffin’s Farm, Virginia.

Powhatan Beaty MOH

Beaty was born into slavery on October 8, 1837, in Richmond, Virginia. He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849, where he received an education. He gained his freedom sometime on or before April 19, 1861; the exact date is unknown and may have been before his move to Ohio. While in school, he developed an interest in theater and made his public acting debut at a school concert. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to a black cabinet maker and eventually worked as a turner. He continued to study acting privately and received training in the field from several coaches, including James E. Murdock, a retired professional stage actor from Philadelphia.

By June 1863, Ohio had not yet fielded an African American combat unit, but Ohio blacks were being recruited for service in the regiments of other states. Beaty enlisted from Cincinnati on June 7, 1863 for a three-year term of service in the Union Army; he was among a group of men recruited for a Massachusetts regiment. He joined as a private but was promoted to sergeant only two days later. He was placed in charge of a squad of forty-seven other recruits and ordered to report to Columbus, Ohio, from where they would be sent to Boston. He was presented with his Medal of Honor on 6 April 1865.

After the war, Beaty returned to Cincinnati and raised his family. His son, A. Lee Beaty, became an Ohio state legislator and an assistant U.S. District Attorney for southern Ohio. He resumed his career as a turner and pursued amateur acting and public speaking engagements. He gave public readings for charitable causes and became a well-known elocutionist among the African American community of Cincinnati. Through the 1870s he acted in local theaters and directed music and drama exhibitions in the city. He wrote a play about a rich southern planter entitled Delmar, or Scenes in Southland, which was performed in January 1881 with himself in the lead role. Set in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Massachusetts, the work covered the end of slavery and transition to freedom for blacks from 1860 to 1875. The privately run play was well received, but Beaty did not engage in self-promotion and it never moved into public theaters.

In January 1884, Beaty was working as an assistant engineer at the Cincinnati water works when Henrietta Vinton Davis, a prominent African American actress, came to perform in the city. Together, he and Davis put on a large musical and dramatic festival in Melodeon Hall which proved to be very successful.

The successful festival led to Beaty being invited to play as a principal actor in a Washington, D.C., Shakespearean production organized by Davis. A company including Davis, Beaty, and amateur actors from the D.C. area performed Richard III almost in entirety, three scenes from Macbeth, and one scene from Ingomar, the Barbarian. Davis, the premier black Shakespearean actress of the time, was the star of the show and Beaty played opposite her as Macbeth, King Henry VI, and Ingomar.

Beaty continued to tour with Davis and performed a show in Philadelphia before returning to Cincinnati. He helped form his city’s Literary and Dramatic Club and, in 1888, became the organization’s drama director. He died in Cincinnati in 1916. 



Took command of his company, all the officers having been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.