Before the war, New Bern already had many free blacks who were carpenters, bricklayers, tailors, barbers and sailors, so it is likely that slaves in eastern North Carolina had always seen New Bern as a place of opportunity. During the Civil War, thousands of slaves escaped from their farms and plantations to New Bern which, because it was occupied by the U.S. Army - a free zone, where the Union's military government protected these contraband refugees from being returned to slavery.
With the military offering jobs, many African American women thrived there. Women who could cook found steady work providing meals for hungry soldiers; housekeepers, laundresses and seamstresses were also welcomed and given employment. One of these workers was Lucy Berington, a 45-year-old African American. The enlistment of women was forbidden therefore her case is something of a mystery.
The U.S. Navy enlisted Lucy as a first-class boy, an entry-level job with a pay scale of seven to nine dollars a month. This would have seemed like a lot of money to Lucy, who was probably a slave before she escaped to New Bern. Her gender was known at the time of her enlistment, and she was assigned as a washerwoman at the U.S. Naval Hospital at New Bern. Lucy is the only known enlisted black female in Civil War-era New Bern, but there may have been others.
Found at NCCivilWar150.com
At least one North Carolina woman served actively in the Union military. Lucy Berington, a 45-year-old African American woman from North Carolina, was enlisted in January 1864 as a first-class boy in the U.S. Navy. Her gender was known at the time of her enlistment, and she was assigned as a washerwoman at the U.S. Naval Hospital at New Bern.
At the time of the war, the enlistment of women was forbidden therefore her case is something of a mystery. She was not hired as contract labor, but formally enlisted at a rating, or naval rank, equal to that of inexperienced recruits to the Navy – the rating of boy was the lowest pay scale in the service. There may have been selfish motives on behalf of the surgeons in charge of the hospital. Average pay for a washerwoman contracted to the Navy at the time was fifty centers per day, which equated to fifteen dollars a month, while a first class boy earned between seven to nine dollars a month. Perhaps they were simply trying to control labor costs; however, if that is the case, why only choose one individual? Sadly for Lucy, the decision to enlist in the Navy cost the woman her life, as she died of disease in the spring of 1864 in the very hospital in which she worked.
Attempting to locate more on Lucy Berington has been difficult. No free black woman by that name lived in the state of North Carolina in 1860, suggesting she was enslaved prior to the war. If she was indeed a slave, and Berington, or perhaps Barrington, was the name of her owner, then one should find a slave, aged nearly forty-five, listed as the property of such a family on the 1860 slave schedule. Interestingly, the only Barrington families in North Carolina (there were no Beringtons) who owned slaves lived in Craven County, the very place Lucy enlisted. However, no female slaves aged forty-five were owned by any of them. A fifty-four-year-old female appears as the property of Nancy V. Barrington while a thirty-six-year-old female was the chattel of Stephen G. Barrington, but it remains uncertain if either was Lucy.
Nevertheless she stands out as the only identifiable enlisted North Carolina female recruit in the Union military.