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
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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.
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.
FUNERAL SERVICE ON SATURDAY.
funeral of Thomas Garrett, which took place on
Saturday, partook almost of the character of a popular
ovation to the memory of the deceased,
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
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
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.
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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