Thomas Garrett

Thomas Garrett

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

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.

A follower of the schismatic Quaker leader Elias Hicks, 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.

As he worked in the iron and hardware business in Wilmington, Garrett openly worked as a Station Master 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 tried and found guilty of helping a family of slaves escape. They were both found guilty and fined. Because he was the architect of the escape, Garrett, in particular 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.

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. 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.

Notes and references

For a comprehensive-object study of his life see, "Station Master of the Underground Railroad, the Life and Letters of Thomas Garrett", by James A. McGowan: (Jefferson, NC.: McFarland & Co., 2005)

External links

* [ Biography at Spartacus]
* [ Pennsylvania Historical Marker]
* [ Text of Wilmington's "Thomas Garrett Day" Proclamation ]
* [ History and Image of "Thornfield"]

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