I found this word when I was looking up information on the Crimean War. A sutler is a civilian merchant who sells (non-military) provisions to an army in the field.
The word was used to refer to Mary Seacole. Who, you ask? I’d never heard of her either. Pity, as she was obviously a legend in her time. She was born in Jamaica to a Scottish father and a free Creole mother who taught her a great deal about caring for the sick.
Mary Seacole had volunteered her assistance to the War Office after hearing about the terrible health conditions of the soldiers during the Crimean War but was rejected because she was a woman. Later when the government changed their mind and allowed women to go, Florence Nightingale was chosen to take a company of 38 women. Despite applying, Mary Seacole was overlooked. She believed it was because of her color.
I bet you have heard of Florence Nightingale. Florence is well-known for her care of the soldiers but her hospital was safely situated several miles from the front and supported by the government.
Mary Seacole started a restaurant/store/medical facility far closer to the front after raising funds to journey there herself. She was very well-known during the war and at times referred to as Mother Seacole. By all accounts she had a wonderful ability to help the sick and injured and often treated soldiers during battle, even doing so under fire.
Florence Nightingale was lauded for her help to the soldiers who made it to her hospital although Mary Seacole treated anyone that needed help, regardless of which side they were fighting on.
Once the Crimean War was over Mary Seacole was nearly destitute and it was only through the fundraising efforts of many illustrious people grateful for her past help that she was saved from ruin.
Funny, isn’t it how the history we all know is only a small part of the huge events that have taken place. Never heard of Mary Seacole before, but Florence Nightingale is someone whose name has fallen into general use even if we don’t know that fine details of what made her famous.