Thomas Garrett

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Ambrotype of Thomas Garrett circa 1850

Thomas Garrett (August 21, 1789 – January 25, 1871) was an American abolitionist and leader in the Underground Railroad movement before the American Civil War.

Early life and education[edit]

Garrett was born into a prosperous landowning Quaker family on their homestead called "Thornfield" in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The house in which he lived until 1822, which was built around 1800, still stands today in what is now Drexel Hill in Upper Darby Township.

In a family already inclined to abolitionism, Thomas was exceptionally dedicated. When a family servant was kidnapped by men who planned to sell her as a slave in the South, he tracked them down and released her.

Career[edit]

Abolitionist Thomas Garrett

In the schism between Orthodox and Hicksite Quakers, Garrett split with his Orthodox family and moved to Wilmington in the neighboring slave state of Delaware to strike out on his own and pursue his struggle against slavery. He established an iron and hardware business and made it prosper.

In 1827 Society of the State of Delaware was reorganized as the Delaware Abolition Society, whose officers and directors included Garrett, William Chandler, president John Wales, vice-president Edward Worrell, and others. Later that year, Wales and Garrett represented the group at the National Convention of Abolitionists.[1]

In 1835, Garrett became a director of the new Wilmington Gas Company, which made gas "made from rosin, at $7 per 1,000 cubic feet" for lighting lamps.[2] In 1836, he invested with Chandler, Joseph Whitaker, and other partners to revive the Principio Furnace in Perryville, Maryland.[3]

Garrett openly worked as a stationmaster on the last stop of the Underground Railroad in the state. Because he openly defied slave hunters as well as the slave system, Garrett had no need of secret rooms in his house at 227 Shipley Street. The authorities were aware of his activities. However, he was never arrested, but in 1848 he and a fellow Quaker, John Hunn, were sued in civil court, found guilty of helping a family of slaves escape. Garrett, the architect of the escape, was fined $4,500. However, a compromised settlement was made and a lien was put on his house until the fine was paid. With the aid of friends, Garrett was able to pay the fine and continue in his iron and hardware business and helping runaway slaves to freedom.

Garrett was visited by William Lloyd Garrison, whom he admired greatly. However, they had different views regarding the opposition to slavery. Garrison was a complete non-resistant. He was willing to be a martyr to the abolition of slavery and would not defend himself if attacked physically. Garrett, on the other hand, believed slavery could only be abolished through a civil war and, when he was attacked physically, defended himself by actually subduing his attackers.

Garrett was also a friend and benefactor to the great Underground Railroad Conductor, Harriet Tubman, who passed through his station many times, during which he frequently provided her with money and shoes to continue her missions of conducting runaways from slavery to freedom. Garrett was singularly responsible for assisting Tubman to rescue her parents from the slave system, though both were free people at the time Tubman rescued them (Tubman's father was going to be arrested for secreting runaway slaves in his cabin). He provided Tubman with the money and the means for them to escape.

Thornfield, his boyhood home in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania

The number of runaways Garrett assisted has sometimes been exaggerated. However, he himself said he "only helped 2,700" before the Civil War put an end to slavery.

During the war, his house was guarded by the free Negroes of Wilmington. During the passage of the 15th Amendment, giving Negro males the right to vote, the Negroes of Wilmington carried him through the streets in an open barouche with a label, "Our Moses."

Thomas Garrett died on January 25, 1871 at the age of 81. His body, on a bier, was borne on the shoulders of freed blacks to the Quaker Meeting House on West 4th Street in Wilmington, where he was interred.

A municipal park in Wilmington is named Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park after the two Underground Railroad agents and friends.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware : 1609-1888. L.J. Richards. Retrieved November 27, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Items of Interest from Various Localities". The American Gas Light Journal 75. July–December 1901. 
  3. ^ Historical Society of Cecil County, "Principio", Milt Diggins

External links[edit]