Thomas Garrett

Thomas Garrett
Born on August 21, 1789 in Upper Darby, PA, Thomas Garrett is one of the most prominent figures in the history of the Underground Railroad. He has been called Delaware's greatest humanitarian and is credited with helping more than 2,700 slaves escape to freedom in a forty year career as a Station Master.

A white Quaker, whose family hid runaway slaves in its Delaware County farmhouse when he was a child, Garrett credited an experience he characterized as transcendental with directing his life's work toward aiding in the escapes of slaves. The incident, in which a black servant employed by Garrett's family was kidnapped and nearly forced into slavery, was a watershed event for the young Garrett, who would devote his life to the abolitionist cause. It is thought that his move to Wilmington, Delaware from outside of Philadelphia was a strategic choice.

Rachel Garrett

In 1813, he married Margaret Sharpless who died after the birth of their fifth child in 1828. In 1830, Garrett married Rachel Mendenhall, the daughter of a fellow Quaker abolitionist from Chester County, Pennsylvania (some Mendenhalls changed the second 'e' in the name to an 'i' and subsequent generations returned it to its original spelling). They had one child, Eli, together and remained married for 38 years. While maintaining an inconsistently successful hardware business, Garrett acted as a key Station Master on the eastern line of the Underground Railroad. His activities brought him in contact with Philadelphia Station Master William Still. The correspondence between the two men, preserved and published by Still, provides scholars with an intimate perspective of their struggle and those of countless Agents and Conductors on the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad.

Margaret Garrett

In 1848, Thomas Garrett and a fellow abolitionist John Hunn were tried and convicted for aiding in the escape of the Hawkins family, who had been slaves in Maryland. Both men were given considerable fines which rendered them nearly bankrupt. In his closing address, Garrett regaled those in the courtroom with a redoubled commitment to help runaway slaves. Eyewitness accounts detail the particular contrition of a slave-holding juror from southern Delaware who rose to shake Garrett's hand and apologize at the close of the impassioned speech.

Following the Civil War, Garrett continued his work for minority groups in America. In 1870, when blacks were given the right to vote by the establishment of the 15th Amendment, Garrett was carried on the shoulders of black supporters through the streets of Wilmington as they hailed him "our Moses." Less than one year later, on January 25, 1871, Thomas Garrett died. His funeral, attended by many of the black residents of the city, featured a procession of Garrett's coffin - borne from shoulder to shoulder up Quaker Hill.

Thomas Garrett
  • Wilmington Progressive Quaker
  • Assisted at least 2700 slaves to freedom in lifetime
  • Active abolitionist for over forty years
  • Family hid slaves in Upper Darby farmhouse as a child
  • Fined $5400 for "knowingly harboring fugitives" at trial in 1848


William Still
William Still
Born a free black man in 1821 in Indian Mills, New Jersey, William Still was an entrepreneur who, despite little formal education, became a successful businessman, author and important figure on the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad. Still's parents were born slaves, but escaped to New Jersey before his birth. His mother, Charity, on her first attempt to escape slavery, was captured and returned to the south with the four children with whom she had fled. On the subsequent, successful attempt, she was forced to leave her two sons, Peter and Levy (who, years later, died in slavery), behind. Charity's angry owner sold the boys further south after her escape. William Still was the last of the fourteen children born to the Stills after they made their free home in New Jersey.

After marrying Letitia George in 1847, William Still began working in the Philadelphia Antislavery Society Offices. Still interviewed every slave he came in contact with and kept comprehensive records of his accounts even after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 when most Agents in the Railroad destroyed their paperwork. He published his records, which include numerous letters from Thomas Garrett, in "The Underground Railroad" in 1872. This remains one of the few, and certainly the most detailed, accounts of the UGRR to exist. On one extraordinary occasion, Still found himself aiding a fugitive who they both came to learn was one of his long-lost brothers, Peter Still!

An active community leader, Still successfully campaigned to end segregation on Philadelphia trolley cars in 1867. He started the Berean Presbyterian Church in 1884 and a black-owned Savings & Loan four years later, in addition to many other socially conscious efforts. William Still died in 1902. His obituary in The New York Times posited that Still was "one of the best-educated members of his race, who was known throughout the country as the 'Father of the Underground Railroad.'"

  • Born free in 1821 in Indian Mills, NJ
  • Entrepreneur with very little formal education
  • Volunteered for the Union Army in 1865
  • Kept comprehensive records of slave encounters and clandestine activities; published accounts in 1872
  • Began working as a clerk in the Antislavery Society Office in 1847 as a janitor and mail clerk for $3.75 a week
  • Campaigned to end segregation on Philadelphia trolley cars in 1867


Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Of all the names associated with the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman's is the most legendary. Called the black "Joan of Arc," she is credited with personally escorting three hundred slaves to freedom on more than twenty separate missions. Such missions entailed hundreds of miles of walking, navigating through rough terrain, outwitting professional slave catchers and evading hunting dogs.

Harriet Tubman

Though her age was never exactly determined, Tubman was born around 1820 near Bucktown, Maryland and married John Tubman in 1845. John Tubman was a free black man who ironically did not support his wife's desire to be free. She remained with him until 1849 when she escaped from the Dorchester County, Maryland farm where she was enslaved. The first of her twenty missions was believed to be a trip to Baltimore in 1850 to retrieve her sister and her sister's children; several subsequent missions rescued other family members. She earned money for her missions by working in Philadelphia and Cape May, New Jersey and through the generous support of Station Masters like Thomas Garrett.

Believing herself guided by God on her missions, Tubman and her 100% success rate made her a legend. Prior to and during the Civil War, a $40,000 reward was offered for her arrest. Tubman settled in Auburn, New York and died there in 1913.

  • Born about 1820 near Bucktown, Maryland
  • Completed 19 missions (plus her own) to escort slaves to freedom
  • Collaborated with Garrett and Still on at least eight missions
  • Helped more than 300 slaves escape, including her parents and siblings
  • Worked for the Union Army as a scout
  • Died in 1913 in Auburn, New York


Samuel D. Burris
Samuel D. Burris
A free black man who acted as both an Agent and Conductor on the Railroad, Burris' most remarkable moment came in the form of his own narrow escape. Because the law allowed for the sale into slavery of any free black person convicted of aiding in the escape of slaves, Burris' risk in acting as a conductor on the Underground Railroad was particularly great. Burris was arrested in Dover, Delaware for absconding with slaves and was eventually tried and convicted. He was placed on the auction block in the center of Dover's town green, stripped nearly naked to facilitate his inspection by slave buyers, and endured the humiliation of being appraised for sale.

When the auction began and Burris was sold, he was led away by the buyer who whispered in his ear,"You have been bought with abolition gold." Burris' purchase had been secretly organized and funded by the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society. Isaac A. Flint was chosen to pose as a southern buyer and he simply imitated the actions of the authentic buyers at the auction. Burris was free; he never ventured south of the Mason-Dixon line again. He later moved to California for business prospects.

  • Born in Willow Grove, Kent County, Delaware in 1808 a free black man
  • Moved to Philadelphia as an adult
  • Conducted fugitives on the URR through Delaware's free black communities
  • Nearly sold into slavery in September of 1848
  • Died in San Francisco, California in 1869

Abraham D. Shadd (1801-1882)
Abraham D. Shadd was one of the most important black leaders in Delaware during the 19th century. His accomplishments in the cause for the abolition of slavery rank him among national figures. Born in Mill Creek Hundred in 1801, Shadd was a descendant of a German military officer who had settled in West Chester years before. He married, fathered 13 children and earned a respectable living as a shoemaker, a trade he learned from his father. After attending the first National Convention to protest racism in Philadelphia in September 1830, Shadd went on to attend most major meetings regarding the abolition of slavery over the course of the next decades including: the National Negro Convention (1830, '31, '32), the American Antislavery Society's meeting (1835, '36), and the National Convention (elected president in 1833). Along with Peter Spencer, he opposed African colonization and argued for the entitlement to civil rights he felt black Americans should have as a result of their significant investment in the country's foundation. Shadd conducted anti-slavery and Underground Railroad activity from his home in West Chester, Pennsylvania, until his move to Canada in 1851. The successes of his children include: Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893), educator, lawyer and journalist; I.D. Shadd, member ofthe Mississippi Legislature from 1871 to 1874; Abraham W. Shadd, graduate of Howard Law School; Emaline Shadd, professor at Howard University.

Mary Ann Shadd
Mary Ann Shadd was a female pioneer in the quest for racial and gender equality in America. Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1823, Mary Ann became an important teacher, newspaper publisher, lawyer, and abolitionist. Appalled by the passage of the fugitive slave act in 1850, Shadd relocated to North Buxton, Ontario. There she founded the "Provincial Freeman", becoming the first black woman to publish a newspaper in North America. Along with Samuel Ringgold Ward, a runaway from Kent County, Maryland, Shadd helped fugitives find land granted by the Province to runaways. In 1855 she was the first woman to speak at the National Negro Convention and eventually testified before Congress in favor of women's suffrage. In 1883 she obtained a law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and established a legal practice dedicated to obtaining equal rights for black Americans. She continued to write for newspapers and fight for equality until her death in 1893.


Henry Craig
Henry Craig was considered a trusted friend by Thomas Garrett and William Still; he aided in their efforts to conduct fugitives to the freedom of the north. Craig, or 'Harry Craige,' as Garrett referred to him, was a free black Underground Railroad worker as the following excerpt portrays him:

"Later the same day Garrett wrote to Still again saying that Harry Craig [sic] would take some escaping slave to Marcus Hook. Garrett advised Still to 'take Harry Craige by the hand as a brother...he is one of our most efficient aids on the Railroad.'"

A black brickmaker named Henry Craig, who lived on East Eleventh Street near Poplar Street in Wilmington, is presumed to be the 'Harry Craige' Garrett mentioned.

Craig and many other black Underground Railroad helpers toiled namelessly as unsung heroes to free their brothers. Others include: Joseph Walker, Comegys Munson, and Severn Johnson.

Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott
A Quaker abolitionist who delivered the eulogy at Garrett's funeral, Mott wrote of the ceremony, "such a concourse of all sects and colors we never before saw. Thousands-- the street lined for half a mile to the meeting house where he was taken-- and nearly as many outside as in." Mott, together with her husband, organized the Seneca Falls Movement that started the Woman's Right Movement in 1848. As a result of her abolitionist activities, Mott realized that women were also chattel in need of liberation.



Hawkins Family
Emeline Hawkins, a slave owned by Mr. James Glanding of Queen Anne County, Maryland, escaped during the winter of 1845 with her husband, Samuel, and their six children. The slave owners had allowed close contact among all the family members. Some of them actually worked on separate farms and Samuel, a free black man, worked and owned his own home nearby. They fled in November of 1845 after Samuel's proposal to buy his family's freedom was rebuffed.

They arrived at Ezekiel Jenkins' home in Camden, Delaware. From there, they trekked to Middletown to John Hunn's farm during a snowstorm. When a neighbor saw 'unfamiliar negroes' at Hunn's farm and reported them to the Constable, a search party arrived to investigate. Samuel, concealed in the barn but guessing that he had been found out, attempted to run from the barn and was observed by the search party. Doubling back again, perhaps to gather his family to flee, Samuel was cornered. Brandishing a knife, Samuel stood threatened by the Constable (who had a rifle) until John Hunn insisted that each give up his weapon in order to spare Samuel. Samuel produced his legal papers from Queen Anne County declaring his freedom, whereupon the party determined them to be fakes. After one of the men in the party attested to the fact that Samuel was free, but that he was being accused of absconding with several slaves in his family, it was decided that everyone must appear before a magistrate in Middletown, Delaware to settle the matter.

At the magistrate's offices, one of the men from the Maryland search party drew Samuel aside and promised him that, if he gave up his two older sons, he would be allowed to proceed north with his wife and family without them. Samuel agreed and Hunn, in spite of serious misgivings, wrote to his wife to bring forth the rest of the family. When the family arrived, they were all taken into custody and brought to New Castle. The man had lied to Hawkins.

The Sheriff of New Castle, roused from slumber at midnight on that Saturday as the group arrived, determined the commitment to be illegal and released the family into Thomas Garrett's care. Garrett, having been alerted to the situation earlier that day, arranged a meeting with the Chief Justice of Delaware, Judge Booth, during which the Judge declared the commitment illegal and freed the family.

Garrett had readied a wagon to take the family safely north to Wilmington. After a short stop at Garrett's home, the Hawkins' were moved 25 miles away to safety, as Garrett later stated. After days of relentless effort applied by the Maryland searchers and slave owners and a new and legal commitment produced by the Sheriff, the Hawkins' were free. Garrett and Hunn were subsequently sued by the slave owners, found guilty and fined.


The Trial of 1848
John Hunn
John Hunn

John Hunn
Hunn was a Quaker and Underground Railroad Station Master who partnered with Thomas Garrett to aid escapees making their way through Delaware. Hunn was tried and fined along with Garrett in 1848 for helping the Hawkins family escape in 1845.

John Wales
The lawyer who defended Thomas Garrett in the trial of 1848, Wales was an abolitionist born in July of 1783 in New Haven, Connecticut. A graduate of Yale University, Wales moved to Delaware. In 1814, Wales became the secretary of the Society for the Promotion of American Manufacturers, which was designed to promote and encourage Delaware's manufacturing industry. He served on the committee to draft the by-laws of the Savings Bank in 1832 and served as the president of the Wilmington and Brandywine Banks. Along with Garrett, Wales was Delaware's representative to the First National Convention of the Abolition of Slavery. He died in 1863 in Wilmington.

James Bayard
Born in 1799, James Bayard was the Democratic lawyer who prosecuted Garrett in 1848. Bayard graduated from Union College at the age of 19 and entered the bar three years later. In 1836, Bayard became the U.S. District Attorney for President Martin Van Buren and was elected Senator in 1850. He was re-elected in 1856 and again in 1862. During the latter term, Bayard fought diligently against the adoption of a proposed test oath which required Senators to prove their loyalty and patriotism. Bayard's campaign failed. When the test oath requirement was adopted, Bayard took the oath and promptly resigned. George R. Riddle succeeded him, but when Riddle died unexpectedly, Governor Saulsbury appointed Bayard to serve the remainder of the term. Bayard died on June 13, 1880.

Willard Hall
Hall served as a judge in the trial of Thomas Garrett and John Hunn in 1848. Born on Christmas Eve in 1780, Hall entered Harvard University at the age of 15 to study law. Hall was appointed Secretary of State in 1813, elected to Congress in 1816 and Senate in 1822. With John Wales, Hall served on the drafting committee for the Wilmington Savings Bank; he served as President of the Bank for 41 years. Hall acted as the President of the Delaware Historical Society upon its founding in 1864.

Roger Brooke Taney
Born in 1777 in Calvert County, Maryland, Taney studied law in Annapolis with Francis Scott Key. After joining the House of Maryland Assembly in 1799 and becoming the leading lawyer in the Maryland bar in 1825, Taney became the Attorney General of Maryland in 1827. President Andrew Jackson appointed Taney Secretary of the Treasury in 1831. In 1836, Taney was appointed the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He presided over Thomas Garrett's trial in 1848 and the Dred Scott Case in 1857.


Home | Biographies | Opposing Forces | Routes & Landmarks | Secrets & Lies | Legacy | Teaching Tools | Links | e-mail Webmaster