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History & Genealogy


(Previously Published in 1879 with title: The Underground Railroad)
For many years connected with the Anti-Slavery Office in Philadelphia, and Chairman of the Acting
Vigilant Committee of the Philadelphia Branch of the Underground Rail Road.

Illustrated with 70 Fine Engravings by Bensell, Schell and Others,
and Portraits from Photographs from Life.

Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant that has escaped from his master unto thee. - Deut. xxiii 16.



Page 623

     The recent death of Thomas Garrett, called forth from the press, as well as from abolitionists and personal friends, such universal expressions of respect for his labors as a philanthropist, and especially as an unswerving friend of the Underground Rail Road, that we need only reproduce selections therefrom, in order to commemorate his noble deeds in these pages.
     From the "Wilmington Daily Commercial," published by Jenkins and Atkinson (men fully inspired with the spirit of impartial freedom), we copy the following notice, which is regarded by his relatives and intimate anti-slavery friends as a faithful portraiture of his character and labors:
     Thomas Garrett, who died full of years and honor, this morning, at the ripe age of eighty-one, was a man of no common character.  He was an abolitionist from his youth up, and though the grand old cause numbered amongst its supporters, poets, sages, and statesmen, it had no more faithful worker in its ranks than Thomas Garrett.
     He has been suffering for several years, from a disease of the bladder, which frequently caused him most acute anguish, and several times threatened his life.  The severe pain attending the disease, and the frequent surgical operations it rendered necessary, undermined his naturally strong constitution, so that when he was prostrated by his last illness, grave fears were entertained of a fatal result.  He continued in the possession of his faculties to the last, and frequently expressed his entire willingness to die.
     Yesterday he was found to be sinking very rapidly.  Just before midnight, last night, he commenced to speak, and some of those in attendance, went close to his bed-side.  He was evidently in some pain, and said:  "It is all peace, peace, peace, but no rest this side of the river."  He then breathed calmly on for some time.  About half an hour later, one of those in attendance ceased to hear his breathing, and bending over him, found that his soul had fled.
     He retained a good deal of his strength through his illness, and was able to get up from his bed, every day, with the assistance of one person.
     He will be buried in the Friends' grave-yard, corner of Fourth and West Streets, on Saturday next, at three o'clock, P. M., and in accordance with a written memorandum of an agreement made by him a year ago with them, the colored people will bear him to his grave, they having solicited of him that honor. 
     He was born of Quaker parents, in Upper Darby, Delaware county, Pa., on the 21st of August, 1789, on a farm still in the possession of the family.  His father, though a farmer, had been a scythe and edge-tool maker, and Thomas learned of him the trade, and his knowledge of it afterwards proved of the utmost advantage to him.
     He gave up and married at Darby, his wife being Sarah Sharpless, and

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in 1820 they came to Wilmington to live, bringing with them several children, most of whom still live here.
     Some years after his arrival here, his wife died, and in course of time, he again married, his second wife being Rachel Mendenhall, who died in April, 1868, beloved and regretted by all who knew her.
     His business career was one of the vicissitude, but generally and ultimately successful, for he made the whole of the comfortable competence of which he died possessed, after he was sixty years of age.  While in the beginning of his business career, as an iron merchant in this city, a wealthy rival house attempted to crush him, by reducing prices of iron to cost, but Mr. Garrett, nothing dismayed, employed another person to attend his store, put on his leather apron, took to his anvil, and in the prosecution of this trade, as an edge-tool maker, prepared to support himself as long as this ruinous rivalry was kept up.  Thus in the sweat of the brow of one of the heroes and philanthropists of this age, was laid the foundation of one of the most extensive business houses that our city now boasts.  His competitor saw that no amount of rivalry could crush a man thus self-supporting and gave up the effort.
     Of course, Thomas Garrett is best known for his labors in behalf of the abolition of Slavery, and as a practical and effective worker for emancipation long before the nation commenced the work of liberation and justice.
     Born a Quaker, he held with simple trust, the faith of the society that God moves and inspires men to do the work he requires of their hands, and throughout his life he never wavered in his conviction, that his Father had called him to work in the cause to which he devoted himself.
     His attention was first directed to the iniquity of Slavery, while he was a young man and twenty-four or twenty-five.  He returned one to his father's house, after a brief absence, and found the family dismayed and indignant at the kidnapping of a colored woman in their employ.
     Thomas immediately resolved to follow the kidnappers, and so started in pursuit.  Some peculiarity about the track made by their wagon, enabled him to trace them with ease, and he followed them by a devious course, from Darby, to a place near the Navy Yard, in Philadelphia, and then by inquiries, etc., tracked them to Kensington, where he found them, and, we believe, secured the woman's release.
     During this ride, he afterwards assured his friends, he felt the iniquity and abomination of the whole system of Slavery borne in upon his mind so strongly, as to fairly appal him, and he seemed to hear a voice within him, assuring him that his work in life must be to help and defend this persecuted race.
     From this time forward, he never failed to assist any fugitive from Slavery on the way to freedom, and, of course, after his removal to this city, his opportunities for this were greatly increased, and in course of time, his

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house became known as one of the refuges for fugitives.  The sentiment of this community was, at that time, bitterly averse to any word or effort against Slavery, and Mr. Garrett had but half a dozen friends who stood by him.  Nearly all others looked at him with suspicion, or positives aversion, and his house was constantly under the surveillance of the police, who then, sad to say, were always on the watch for any fugitives from bondage.  Thomas was not disheartened or dismayed by the lack of popular sympathy or approval.  He believed the Lord was on his side, and cared nothing for the adverse opinion of men.
     Many and interesting stories are told of the men and women he helped away, some of them full of pathos, and some decidedly amusing.  He told the latter which related to his ingenious contrivances for assisting fugitives to escape the police with much pleasure, in his later years.  We would repeat many of them, but this is not the time or place.  The necessity of avoiding the police was the only thing, however, which ever forced him into any secrecy in his operations, and in all other respects he was "without concealment and without compromise" in his opposition to Slavery.  He was a man of unusual personal bravery, and of powerful physique, and did not present an encouraging object for the bullying intimidation by which the pro-slavery men of that day generally overawed their opponents.  He seems to have scarcely known what fear was, and though irate slave-holders often called on him to learn the whereabouts of their slaves, he met them placidly, never denied having helped the fugitives on their way, positively refused to give them any information, and when they flourished pistols, or bowie-knives to enforce their demands, he calmly pushed the weapons aside, and told them that none but cowards resorted to such means to carry their ends.
     He continued his labors, thus, for years, helping all who came to him, and making no concealment of his readiness to do so.  His firmness and courage slowly won others, first to admire, and then to assist him, and the little band of faithful workers, of which he was chief, gradually enlarged and included in its number, men of all ranks, and differing creeds, and, singular as it may seem, even numbering some ardent Democrats in its ranks.  He has, in conversation with the present writer and others, frequently acknowledged the valuable services of two Roman Catholics, of Irish birth, still living in this city, who were ever faithful to him, and will now be amongst those who most earnestly mourn his decease.
     His efforts, of course, brought him much persecution and annoyance, but never culminated in anything really serious, until about the year 1846 or '47.
     He then met, at New Castle, a man, woman, and six children, from down on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  The man was free, the woman had been a slave, and while in Slavery had had by her husband, two children.  She was then set free, and afterwards had four children.  The whole party ran away.  They traveled several days and finally reached Middletown, late-

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at night, where they were taken in, fed and cared for, by John Hunn, a wealthy Quaker, there.  They were watched, however, by some persons in that section, who followed them, arrested them, and sent them to New Castle to jail.  the sheriff and his daughter were Anti-slavery people, and wrote to Mr. Garrett to come over.  He went over, had an interview, found from their statement, that four of the party were undoubtedly free, and returned to this city.  On the following day, he and U. S. Senator Wales, went over and had the party taken before Judge Booth, on a writ of habeas corpus.  Judge Booth decided that there were no evidence on which to hold them, that in the absence of evidence the presumption was always in favor of freedom and discharged them.
     Mr. Garrett then said, here is this woman with a babe at her breast, the child suffering from a white swelling on its leg, is there any impropriety in my getting a carriage and helping them over to Wilmington?  Judge Booth responded certainly not.
     Mr. Garrett then hired the carriage, but gave the driver distinctly to understand that he only paid for the woman and the young children; the rest might walk.  They all got in, however, and finally escaped, of course the two children born in slavery amongst the rest.
     Six weeks afterwards the slave-holders followed them, and incited, it is said, by the Cochrans and James A. Bayard, commenced a suit against Mr. Garrett, claiming all the fugitives as slaves.  Mr. Garrett's friends claim that the jury was packed to secure an adverse verdict.  The trial came on before Chief Justice Taney and Judge Hall, in the May term (1848) of the U. S. Court, sitting at new Castle, Bayard representing the prosecutors, and Wales the defendant.  There were four trials in all, lasting three days.  We have not room here for the details of the trial, but the juries awarded even heavier damages than the plaintiffs claimed, and the judgments swept away every dollar of his property.
     When the trials were concluded, Mr. Garrett arose, the court being adjourned, made a speech of an hour to the large crowd in the court-room, in the course of which he declared his intention to redouble his exertions, so help him God.  His bold assertion was greeted with mingled cheers and hisses, and at the conclusion of his speech one of the jurors who had convicted him strode across the benches, grasped his hand, and begged his forgiveness.
     Mr. Garrett kept his pledge and redoubled his exertions  The trial advertised him, and such was the demand on him for shelter, that he was compelled to put another story on his back buildings.  His friends helped him to start again in business, and commencing anew in his sixtieth year with nothing, he again amassed a handsome competence, generously contributing all the while to every work in behalf of the down-trodden blacks or his suffering fellow-men of any color.

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     In this the war came, and as he remarked, the nation went into the business by the wholesale, so he quit his retail operations, having, after he commenced to keep a record, helped off over twenty-one hundred slaves, and no inconsiderable number before that time.
     In time, too, he came to the honored instead of execrated for his noble efforts.  Wilmington became an abolition city, and for once, at least, a prophet was not without honor in his own city.  Mr. Garrett continued his interest in every reform up to his last illness, and probably his last appearance in any public capacity, was as president of a Woman Suffrage meeting, in the City Hall, a few months ago, which was addressed by Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone, and Henry B. Blackwell.
    He lived to see the realization of his hopes for Universal Freedom, and in April last on the occasion of the great parade of the colored people in this city, he was carried through our streets in an open barouche, surrounded by the men in whose behalf he had labored so faithfully, and the guards around his carriage carrying banners, with the inscription, "Our Moses."
     A. Moses he was to their race; but unto him it was given to enter into the promised land toward which he had set his face persistently and almost alone for more than half a century.
     He was beloved almost to adoration by his dusky-hued friends, and in the dark days of the beginning of the war, which every Wilmingtonian will remember with a shudder, in those days of doubt, confusion, and suspicion, without his knowledge or consent, Thomas Garrett's house was constantly surrounded and watched by faithful black men, resolved that, come weal come woe to them, no harm should come to the benefactor of their race.
     He was a hero in a life-time fight, an upright, honest man in his dealings with men, a tender husband, a loving father, and above all, a man who loved his neighbor as himself, and righteousness and truth better than ease, safety, or worldly goods, and who never let any fear of harm to person or property sway him from doing his whole duty to the uttermost.
     He was faithful among the faithless, upright and just in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, and lived to see his labors rewarded and approved in his own life-time, and then with joy that the Right had triumphed by mightier means than his own; with thankfulness for the past,  and with calm trust for the future, he passed to the reward of the just.  He has fought a good fight, and has finished his course, he has kept the faith.
     From the same paper, of Jan. 30th, 1871, we extract an account of the funeral  obsequies which took place on Saturday, January 28th.


     The funeral of Thomas Garrett, which took place on Saturday, partook almost of the character of a popular ovation to the memory of the deceased,

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though it was conducted with the plainness of form which characterizes the society of which he was a member.
     There was no display, no organization, nothing whatever to distinguish this from ordinary funerals, except the outpouring of people of every creed, coalition, and color, to follow the remains to their last resting-place.
     There was for an hour or two before the procession started, a constant living stream of humanity passing into the house, around the coffin, and out at another door, to take a last look at the face of the deceased, the features of which displayed a sweetness and serenity which occasioned general remark.  A smile seemed to play upon the dead lips.
     Shortly after three o'clock the funeral procession started, the plain coffin, containing the remains, being carried by the stalwart arms of a delegation of colored men, and the family and friends of the deceased following in carriages with a large procession on foot, while the sidewalks along the line, from the house to the meeting-house, more than six squares, were densely crowded with spectators.
     The Friends' Meeting House was already crowded, except the place reserved for the relatives of the deceased, and, though probably fifteen hundred people crowded into the capacious building, a greater number still were unable to gain admission.
     The crowd inside was composed of all kinds and conditions of men, white and black, all uniting to do honor to the character and works of the deceased. 
     The crowd inside was composed of all kinds and conditions of men, white and black, all uniting to do honor to the character and works of the deceased.
     The coffin was laid in the open space in front of the gallery of ministers and elders, and the lid removed from it, after which there was a period of silence.
     Presently the venerable Lucretia Mott arose and said that, seeing the gathering of the multitude there and thronging along the streets, as she had passed on her way to the meeting-house, she had thought of the multitude which gathered after the death of Jesus, and of the remark of the Centurion, who, seeing the people, said:  "Certainly this was a righteous man."  Looking at this multitude she would say surely this also was a righteous man.  She was not one of those who thought it best always on occasions like this, to speak in eulogy of the dead, but this was not an ordinary case, and seeing the crowd that had gathered, and amongst it the large numbers of a once despised and persecuted race, for which the deceased had done so much, she felt that it was fit and proper that the good deeds of this man's life should be remembered, for the encouragement of others.  She spoke of her long acquaintance with him, of his cheerful and sunny disposition, and his firm devotion to the truth as he saw it.
     Aaron M. Powell, of New York, was the next speaker, and he spoke at length with great earnestness of the life-long labor of his departed friend in the abolition cause, of his cheerfulness, his courage, and his perfect consecration of his work.

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     He alluded to the fact, that deceased was a member of the Society of Friends, and held firmly to its faith that God leads and inspires men to do the work He requires of them, that He speaks within the soul of every man,


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