February 7, 1842–February 26, 1892
Born on February 7, 1842 (some sources state that he was born on November 8, 1842 or on February 8, 1842) in Grand Gulf, Mississippi, James Monroe Trotter was born a slave. His mother was Letitia, a slave, and his father was Richard S. Trotter, a white man and his owner. Trotter's father purportedly freed Trotter, Letitia, and Trotter's brother in 1856.
Born on February 7, 1842 (some sources state that he was born on November 8, 1842 or on February 8, 1842) in Grand Gulf, Mississippi, James Monroe Trotter was born a slave. His mother was Letitia, a slave, and his father was Richard S. Trotter, a white man and his owner. Trotter's father purportedly freed Trotter, Letitia, and Trotter's brother in 1856. The family settled in Cincinnati, Ohio by 1858, where James Trotter attended school at the Gilmer School. His mother eventually enrolled him at the Albany Academy, which was located in Athens County, Ohio. Once Trotter graduated from the Albany Academy, Trotter became a schoolteacher, finding employment in African-American schools in Muskingum, Pike, and Ross Counties, Ohio.
With the American Civil War’s outbreak in April 1861, Trotter hoped to enlist in the Union military. The federal government prohibited African Americans from military duty until 1863, following the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Once the federal government began to permit African Americans to serve, black volunteers had to serve in segregated units under white officers. The State of Ohio refused to create any African American units. For this reason, 5,092 African American Ohioans joined the United States Colored Troops or enlisted in black regiments in other states, most notably in Massachusetts. Trotter, himself, enlisted as a first sergeant in Company K of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment along with eleven other African Americans from Ross County. Trotter enlisted on June 11, 1863 and was formally mustered into service on June 22, 1863. On November 11, 1863, officials promoted Trotter to sergeant major, and he transferred to the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment's field staff that same day.
On April 10, 1864, Trotter was appointed as Second Lieutenant of Company G of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. This same year, Trotter received a minor wound at the Battle of Honey Hill in South Carolina. Military authorities did not grant Trotter his commission officially until July 1, 1865, after the Civil War had ended and shortly before Trotter and the rest of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment were honorably discharged on August 29, 1865. Authorities waited until this late date to grant the commission purportedly because white officers were unwilling to serve with African-American officers. One African-American soldier wrote that Trotter and two other soldiers did not receive their commissions immediately, "because God did not make them White."
Upon the Civil War's conclusion, Trotter settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where he became the first African American to find employment with the United States Post Office. He made several return trips to Ohio, where he married Virginia Isaacs, a resident of Chillicothe, in 1868. The couple eventually had three children, including William Monroe Trotter, who became a prominent newspaper editor in Boston. James Trotter remained employed with the Postal Service from 1866 to 1873.
Trotter also became a published author, writing a survey of American music, titled Music and Some Highly Musical People.Completed in 1878 and published in 1880, this work has been republished twice. Trotter was also a member of the Timothy Ingraham Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. On March 3, 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Trotter to the Recorder of Deeds Office, a position that Frederick Douglass once held. Trotter died on February 26, 1892 in Boston, Massachusetts.