In 1813, a free black woman was kidnapped from Thomas Garrett’s home and sold into slavery. Garrett went after the kidnappers, took the woman back and returned home. This act would forever change Garrett and forge the path that he would walk the rest of his life.
He became an abolitionist, providing solace to runaway slaves. His home at 227 Shipley Street in Wilmington at once became a symbol of hope to slaves and a magnet for hatred from slave owners. For his efforts, he was brought to trial in the U.S. Circuit Court in 1848 charged with aiding runaway slaves. Guilty, he was fined $5,400. Garrett lost just about everything he had.
“Thomas,” the judge told him from the bench, “I hope you will never be caught at this business again.”
“Friend,” Garrett replied, “I haven’t a dollar in the world, but if thee knows a fugitive who needs a breakfast, send him to me.”
Garrett didn’t stop helping slaves. In fact, in 1860 Maryland state legislature passed a resolution for a $10,000 reward Garrett’s arrest on the grounds of “slave stealing”. Upon learning this, Garrett wrote t the legislature that for $20,000 he would turn himself in.
When the 15th Amendment to the Constitution stating that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” became law, many in Wilmington celebrated by carrying the Garrett through the streets, calling him “Our Moses.”
Sources: Picket, Russ, “A Delawarean That Made a Difference!” , Delaware Biographies, 1999