Alfred Martin Ray: Buffalo Solder
This historic marker commemorates the remarkable life of Alfred Martin Ray. Born a slave in Jonesborough, TN, Ray enlisted in the army shortly after the Civil War. Ray served in the 10th Calvary Division, mounted troops known as "Buffalo Soldiers." Serving in the army for many years, Ray fought in the Spanish-American War and planted the U.S. flag on San Juan Hill.
Backstory and Context
Believed to have been born around 1849, Alfred Martin Ray was born a slave in Jonesborough, TN. Like many other slaves, there is little information available about Ray's family and his life before 1865. In 1872, Ray enlisted in the army and joined the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" of the 10th Calvary Division--an all-black military unit. From 1872 to 1898, he was stationed at a variety of frontier outposts and was part of numerous campaigns and engagements along the frontier.
When war with Spain came in 1898, Ray and the Buffalo Soldiers deployed to Cuba to fight Spanish forces. On July 1 of 1898, Ray charged up San Juan Hill while under fire from entrenched Spanish defenders. Upon reaching the crest of the hill, Ray planted the U.S. flag as American forces stormed behind him and drove off Spanish forces. Due to his heroic action on San Juan Hill, Ray received a battlefield commission. He later was sent to the Philippines, where he fought against Spanish troops and Filipino rebels who cared for neither Spanish or American presence on the islands. Ray retired from the military in 1903.
After retiring, Ray returned to Jonesborough and purchased land by Woodrow Ave. and Depot street and built a house in 1904. He lived there until his death in 1917. He is buried in the local College Hill Cemetery.