As young Thomas Garrett was returning on
horseback to his home near Philadelphia late one aft-
ernoon in 1807, he saw his mother hurrying towards
him, wringing her hands and crying. "Oh, Thomas,
Thomas," she wailed, over and over again.
"What is it, mother?" he called.
"Nancy- they've kidnaped Nancy!" she gasped.
"Hurry over to the Judge's house and tell him, so he
can send out officers to get her back."
"How long ago did it happen?"
"About an hour back. Oh, poor Nancy- And she's
free, Thomas, as free as we are. How dared they?"'
Thomas deliberated a few moments.
"They haven't such a great headstart. But it will
take too long to find the Judge and get the officers
out. I'll go myself, mother. Otherwise they may get
so far away that we won't be able to pick up their
trail. Luckily Darby here had an easy day," he said,
stroking the horse as he looked carefully at the tracks
in the roadway. "Here's another bit of luck! The
wheels of the carriage have an odd pattern I can
Jumping back on his horse, he galloped along the
road leading south, following the trail with only an
occasional stop to pick out the pattern after various
other wheels had obliterated it.
"The trail keeps getting fresher," he said to him-
self. "I'm catching up to them."
He had gone some twelve miles when he found he
could follow the trail without stopping to disentangle
it, and then, a few moments later, as he rounded a
curve he saw a carriage just ahead. The driver was
whipping the two horses, and he heard a woman's
A second later she screamed again, but this time
for joy as she recognized the horse and its rider who
drew up alongside and seized the nearest horse of the
team by the bridle.
The two kidnapers, slave-catchers by profession,
made no trouble. They knew that even if they at-
tacked and bound young Thomas, they stood small
chance of getting out of the State, since their move-
ments were known. They had counted on Mrs. Gar-
rett being alone for several hours more. They knew
they were liable to severe punishment if caught kid-
naping a free Negro.
'"You may as well get out and go back with him,"
they said roughly to Nancy.
Crying with joy, Nancy stepped out of the carriage,
and Thomas swung her up behind him on his horse.
This experience made a deep impression on the
boy of eighteen. It opened his eyes to the cruelty of
slavery, and for the next sixty-four years of his life
he did everything he could to help all Negroes, in
slavery or free.
Garrett moved to Wilmington, Delaware, in 1822,
after he had married. There he hid runaway slaves
in his home, or would send them secretly to other
workers on the Underground Railroad. If a new
arrival did not seem to be closely pursued, Thomas
Garrett would dress him in clothes like those worn
by free Negroes in Wilmington. Garrett kept sup-
plies of such clothing and of rakes, hoes, scythes, and
the like, in secret places in his house. In the early
morning, with rake or hoe over his shoulder, the
escaping slave would walk briskly along the street.
Nobody would pay the least attention to a Negro
apparently going to his day's work. The Negro would
hide the tool under a designated bridge to the north
of Wilmington, and go on to the next station of the
Underground Railroad. Later on, Garrett would stop
by the bridge and pick up his tools. If pursuers came
to Wilmington looking for the fugitive, they would
find absolutely no trace of the ragged Negro whom
Garrett was constantly under suspicion of: having
engineered escapes; but if he were directly accused,
he would never deny it-he would only quietly refuse
to give any information.
Once the Garrett home was surrounded by con-
stables, watching for a Negro woman hidden there.
Mrs. Garrett put one of her own dresses and a
Quaker bonnet on the woman, and Thomas led her
out of the house before the very eyes of the con-
stables. She escaped, undetected.
Another time the Garretts were amazed to see two
carriages, drawn by fine horses, stop before their
door. They went out to greet their guests, and found
eleven Negroes, who were fleeing from Chestertown,
Maryland, fifty miles away. Harriet Shephard, the
mother of five young children in the first carriage,
was determined they should not grow up in slavery.
She had persuaded five other Negroes to come with
them. They had "borrowed" the carriages and horses,
and simply drove off, starting at midnight. Late next
day they reached Wilmington, asked the way to the
Garrett home, and went directly there, without trying
in any way to hide themselves.
Thomas Garrett did not like to hurry, but this time
he hurried. Two carriages, four horses, eleven Ne-
groes! The owners of all this property would soon be
on the trail, and the trail was an easy one to follow.
The horses and carriages he held, to return to their
owners. The men, women and children he believed
belonged to themselves, and they were taken in-
stantly into Pennsylvania, where other Friends sep-
arated them into several parties, and sent them on to
It was about this time that an angry slave-owner
pointed his gun at Thomas Garrett, declaring that he
would shoot him if he did not tell what he had done
with some escaping slaves. Garrett looked the man
squarely in the face, and said only, "Shoot." Against
such courage, the slave-owner was powerless.
Another time, two men came to Wilmington pur-
posely to kill him and thus stop his assistance to
runaway slaves. Garrett had been warned of their
coming. Meeting them at his door, he said, "You men
look hungry. Come in, and have some supper."
Shamefaced and embarrassed, they accepted the invi-
tation, and Thomas Garrett once again escaped harm.
After the meal, one of the men thanked him, and
went away. The other stayed, and worked for him for
Though Garrett thus escaped with his life, he
finally did lose his property. A reward of $40,000
had been offered by the Legislature of Maryland to
any person who should catch him in the act of help-
ing a slave, and then imprison him in any jail in the
State of Maryland. That reward was never claimed,
but in 1848, in Delaware, he was brought to court
for helping a slave woman and her children north-
ward. The judge knew him well, and offered to let
him off if he would promise never to do such a thing
But Garrett replied calmly, "Thou hadst better
proceed with thy business."
So the case was tried, and he was sentenced to pay
a fine of eight thousand dollars. He had been having
business troubles, so after paying this large sum he
had nothing left. The local sheriff said to him:
"Well, Mr. Garrett, I hope you will never be
caught at such work again."
However, to the sheriff's surprise, Garrett an-
swered: "Friend, I haven't a dollar in the world; but
if thee knows a fugitive who needs a breakfast, send
him to me."
Fortunately, he had many friends, who helped him
to begin business once more. In every Negro church
in Wilmington the colored people prayed for their
friend, that he might not remain in poverty.
Their prayers were answered. He was an old man,
but still with an excellent business head, and in spite
of his continued activities for escaping slaves, he
managed to accumulate another moderate-sized for-
tune during the next few years.
But the Negroes did more than pray for him. In
the beginning of the Civil War there was rioting in
Wilmington. Men who sympathized with the South
made attacks on the homes of Negroes and of work-
ers for the abolition of slavery. Unknown to the
Garretts, the Wilmington Negroes kept a constant
watch on their home, ready to call the police at a
moment's notice, if there should be any trouble.
In 1863, when all slaves were declared free by
the Government, the Wilmington Negroes made a
great procession of rejoicing for their people. They
begged Thomas Garrett to take part, and the old man
gladly consented. Great, was his surprise, however,
when the horses were removed from the open car-
riage in which he was riding, and he found himself
drawn by a dozen men at the head of the procession.
Before him there marched another man carrying a
banner on which was written, "Our Moses."
This was the climax of Garrett's great work for
Negroes. His colored friends still came to him often
for help and advice, but there were no more terrified
men and women or families knocking at his door,
begging him to save them from slavery. "The Gov-
ernment has taken over my business," he said, after
the war broke out. "Now I can retire." Then he
added, wistfully, "I have helped only twenty-seven
hundred slaves to freedom. I had hoped to save three