Powell, Sr. was a vocal abolitionist and helped house black seamen as well as fugitive slaves. In 1851, the family moved to England to escape the punitive and rightfully frightening Fugitive Slave laws. Powell, Jr. grew up in Liverpool where his father ran a boarding house for seamen and newly arrived fugitive slaves. Powell, Jr. did medical training at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in London. His family returned to America in 1861 and he began practicing medicine then.
Powell wanted to help in the war effort and applied to the Army to serve as an assistant surgeon. He was offered a contract and worked at the Contraband Hospital for fugitive slaves and black soldiers. In 1863, he became the hospital's surgeon-in-chief and served for a year.
He left the Army and went into private practice. He retired in 1891 in failing health. He spent the next 24 years petitioning for his government pension. He never received it as he could not prove that he was a commissioned military man rather than a contracted surgeon.
In 1902, he returned to England where his brother was in ill health. He died there in 1915 in a home for the aged and invalid.
NOTE: This is the fascinating source you can learn more about William Powell's story: National Library of Medicine exhibition and online exhibition.
Mixed Experience History Month is the annual blog post series created by New York Times best-selling author Heidi Durrow celebrating the history of the Mixed experience. Established in 2007, Mixed Experience History Month is my effort to highlight the long history of folks and events involved in the Mixed experience. Please look for more profiles of people, places and events of the Mixed experience every weekday of May at Lightskinned-ed Girl, the blog! Thanks for reading. And check out some of the previous year's profiles: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013. Copyright 2013.