A snapshot biography of abolitionist Thomas Garrett

Thomas Garrett

“Judge thou has left me not a dollar, but I wish to say to thee and to all in this courtroom that if anyone knows a fugitive who wants a shelter and a friend, send him to Thomas Garrett and he will befriend him.”

Thomas Garrett said these words as part of his closing argument in response to a judge, who said, “Thomas, I hope you will never be caught at this business again.”

The business being referred to was helping enslaved people escape to the north. The trial, which took place in 1846, was a lawsuit by two slaveowners for help Thomas provided a family that escaped. Thomas received a guilty verdict and a fine, leaving him in financial ruin. 

But he continued helping enslaved people escape. From his home in Wilmington, Delaware, the dividing line between North and South in the U.S., Thomas, an ardent abolitionist, was instrumental to the Underground Railroad. Working with Harriet Tubman and others, Thomas was able to help about 2,500 people make their way to freedom. 

He actively worked on behalf of minority groups into his early 80s, retiring shortly after the passing of the 15th Amendment in 1870. 

“A snapshot biography of abolitionist Thomas Garrett” sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Garrett / Kathleen Lonsdale, Is Peace Possible?, Penguin Books, 1957, p. 124 (referring to Speak Truth to Power by the AFSC) / Portrait taken circa 1850, Boston Public Library / Wikimedia Commons / Quote: History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2 (1874) by Henry Wilson, p. 85; also in Station Master on the Underground Railroad: The Life and Letters of Thomas Garrett (2005) by James A. McGowan, p. 65