William Augustus Stuart (or Steuart) was born March 3, 1874 in Charleston, West Virginia to Lucy Payne and Thomas S Swann. William Stuart was an African American, part French and Indian, as well as being an active member of the Catholic church. Prior to enlisting in the United States Navy, William Stuart was a Cook and Steward during his civilian career. He married Genelva “Jinnie” Fields. The Stuart family lived on Hale street in the Lindenwood neighborhood of Norfolk Virginia before joining the U.S. Navy and following his time in service. William Stuart was far from illiterate able to both read and write, he attended public school and then moved on to Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University.
At the outbreak of World War One, William Stuart enlisted on April 26th 1917 in Norfolk Virginia following basic training Stuart received on the job training (OJT) serving as a First Class Cook in the Naval Auxiliary. Before arriving in France in 1918, William Stuart continued serving as a cook was eventually assigned to Scout Patrol Duty, at Virginia capes, 5th Naval district in addition he was transferred to the USS Bulgaria Legonia Teresa, also known as simply the USS Teresa (Id. No. 4478) when his service was no longer needed in the 5th Naval district. Due to his character and work ethic William Stuart was eventually promoted to 1st Class Cook Instructor of Cooks. William Stuart served his Nation honorably and believed all should have military experience because it was beneficial to him over the years both mentally and physically. During the peak of the war German U-boats or submarines began to destroy ships along European borders cutting supply routes off and causing much devastating damage as well and interrupting operations. and eventually forcing the United States to declare war on Germany in 1917. During his time in service abroad, he was a firsthand witness to being attacked by German Submarines, witnessing multiple ships sinking in the convoy. U.S. convoy ships were armed with torpedoes to counter German U-boat attacks and fortunately for William Stuart he did not become a causality at sea. The mission aboard convoy ships became a daily routine of convoy operations, patrolling the sea as well as reporting German submarine intel. Living conditions on the ships were harsh, many sailors became prone to influenza and the mumps, eventually becoming infected with the diseases and many even died.
William Stuart received medical treatment in the Norfolk Naval Yard and was permanently disabled for heart leakage and hardening of the arteries. William Stuart believed the war was justifiable, by witnessing the ships sinking while in the line of duty, and the honor of War. Following his release from service William Stuart was under medical care in for heart leakage, and hardening of the arteries, this unfortunate experience making him a disabled American veteran.
“Teresa (Id. No. 4478)” Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Available Online: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs.html. Dec. 8, 2016.
“The USS Navy in WW1” World War I Vets.com Available Online: http://www.wwvets.com/Navy.html, Dec. 6, 2016.
United States Census, 1920.
William Augustus Stuart,” World War I History Commission Questionnaires, Library of Virginia.
Jourdan Bethea is an ROTC cadet at Norfolk State University.