Thomas Smallwood

Last updated

Thomas Smallwood (1801–1883) was a freedman who worked alongside prominent abolitionist Charles Turner Torrey on the Underground railroad. [1] The two men created what some historians believe was the first branch of the underground railroad that ran through Washington, D.C., which they operated from 1842 to 1844. After their involvement ceased, the network continued to exist in Washington for another two decades. Smallwood also wrote for Torrey's Albany, New York antislavery newspaper, Tocsin of Liberty, as its Washington correspondent. [2]

A freedman or freedwoman is a former slave who has been released from slavery, usually by legal means. Historically, slaves were freed either by manumission or emancipation. A fugitive slave is one who escaped slavery by fleeing.

Charles Turner Torrey American abolitionist

Charles Turner Torrey was a leading American abolitionist. Although largely lost to historians until recently, Torrey pushed the abolitionist movement to more political and aggressive strategies, including setting up one of the first highly organized lines for the Underground Railroad and personally freeing approximately 400 slaves. Torrey also worked closely with free blacks, thus becoming one of the first to consider them partners. John Brown cited Torrey as one of the three abolitionists he looked to as models for his own efforts.

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, the first president of the United States and a Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city, located on the Potomac River bordering Maryland and Virginia, is one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.

Biography

Thomas Smallwood was born a slave in Prince George's County, Maryland in 1801. As a small child, his ownership transferred to Rev. John B. Ferguson, who taught Smallwood to read and write and agreed to set Smallwood free at age 30 in exchange for $500. Smallwood was freed in 1831 and began work in Washington as a shoemaker. [2]

Slavery in the United States Form of slave labor which existed as a legal institution from the early years of the United States

Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel enslavement, primarily of Africans and African Americans, that existed in the United States of America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Slavery had been practiced in British America from early colonial days, and was legal in all Thirteen Colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It lasted in about half the states until 1865, when it was prohibited nationally by the Thirteenth Amendment. As an economic system, slavery was largely replaced by sharecropping and convict leasing.

Prince Georges County, Maryland County in the United States

Prince George's County is located in the U.S. state of Maryland, bordering the eastern portion of Washington, D.C. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population was 863,420, making it the second-most populous county in Maryland, behind Montgomery County. Its county seat is Upper Marlboro. It is one of the richest African American-majority counties in the United States, with five of its communities identified in a 2015 top ten list.

Smallwood was deeply motivated by the humiliations he experienced as a slave and his Christian beliefs to engage in antislavery activity. Smallwood opposed manumission, or the legal purchasing of slaves to secure their freedom. But his options for bolder action were limited by the fact that he was living in a region of the country controlled by slaveholders. [2]

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures of Judaism, called Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers.

Manumission act of slave owner freeing slaves

Manumission, or affranchisement, is the act of an owner freeing his or her slaves. Different approaches developed, each specific to the time and place of a particular society. Jamaican historian Verene Shepherd states that the most widely used term is gratuitous manumission, "the conferment of freedom on the enslaved by enslavers before the end of the slave system".

In Washington, Smallwood worked at the Washington Navy Yard and attended Ebenezer Methodist church on Capitol Hill in the 1820’s and 1830’s were many employees of the navy yard worshiped. [3] [4] At Ebenezer, Smallwood and his family found fellowship, and camaraderie and had the opportunity to take part in a progressive and active religious community. Many African Americans during this period found Methodism congenial. The appeal of this relatively new religion was both the emphasize on individual personal conversion, and in theory, the equality of all the faithful before God. Slaves and free people of color took part in adult classes, religious instruction, and gained the opportunity in church sponsored adult classes to learn to write and read scripture. Attendees included a wide range of community leaders including diarist Michael Shiner, Moses Liverpool, Nicholas Franklin and Sophia Bell all leaders in the African American community. [5] In 1836 Thomas Smallwood was in the same adult class no.16, as Michael Shiner's wife Phillis. [6]

Washington Navy Yard

The Washington Navy Yard (WNY) is the former shipyard and ordnance plant of the United States Navy in Southeast Washington, D.C. It is the oldest shore establishment of the U.S. Navy.

Then, in early 1842, Smallwood read about Charles Turner Torrey, an antislavery activist who was jailed in Annapolis, Maryland for attempting to report on a legislative convention of Maryland slaveholders. Smallwood arranged their introduction. According to Smallwood, Torrey immediately invited him to help plan the escape of a slave family owned by George E. Badger. The North Carolina plantation owner had plans to sell the family down south. But escape plans fell apart when the mother opted to try to raise money for her family's freedom instead. [1]

Annapolis, Maryland Capital of Maryland

Annapolis is the capital of the U.S. state of Maryland, as well as the county seat of Anne Arundel County. Situated on the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Severn River, 25 miles (40 km) south of Baltimore and about 30 miles (50 km) east of Washington, D.C., Annapolis is part of the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. Its population was measured at 38,394 by the 2010 census.

George Edmund Badger American secretary of the navy and senator for North Caroleeba

George Edmund Badger was a Whig U.S. senator from the state of North Carolina.

Smallwood and Torrey proceeded anyway with building an underground railroad network in Washington. The fugitives they secreted north were mostly local slaves whom Torrey or Smallwood met in church, or whom Smallwood met through work at Navy Yard or through the literacy classes he taught. The two men recruited and guided escaped slaves while Smallwood's wife, Elizabeth Smallwood, and his landlady sometimes harbored the fugitives in Smallwood's Washington home. At least once, Captain John H. Goddard, the leader of Washington's police force and de facto antislavery patrol, searched the Smallwood household as a fugitive slave fled out the back door. The pair often paid local black men to assist them. They also relied on the help of a freedman, Jacob Gibbs, who ran an underground network in Baltimore. Smallwood also went to lengths to exclude from their new network people he felt were motived by profit. [2]

Daily Herald 1843-12-06 (3) New Haven Connecticut notice re Thomas Smallwood and escaped slave Daily Herald 1843-12-06 (3) New Haven Connecticut Thomas Smallwood Capt Goodard.pdf
Daily Herald 1843-12-06 (3) New Haven Connecticut notice re Thomas Smallwood and escaped slave

Smallwood and Torrey's first fugitive party was a group of 15 men, women, and children who successfully escaped to Canada. After Torrey relocated to Albany, Smallwood led several more northward escapes by himself. But fears that he was no longer safe from arrest convinced Smallwood to move to Toronto in June 1843. He moved his wife and children to the city that October. Shortly thereafter, Smallwood and Torrey launched their final joint mission, an ill-fated attempt to rescue the families of four escaped black men who approached Smallwood in Toronto. With material support from northern abolitionists such as Thomas Garrett, Torrey and Smallwood met the escapees in Washington. But they narrowly missed capture by Goddard. Smallwood fled on foot to Baltimore, where Gibbs helped arrange his return to Toronto. Smallwood lived the rest of his life in Toronto, where he operated a saw mill and became a prominent member of the city's black leadership. [2]

Smallwood died of old age in Toronto on May 10, 1883, and was buried in the Toronto Necropolis the following day. [7]

Related Research Articles

Underground Railroad network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape to freedom

The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-1800s, and used by African-American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. The term is also applied to the abolitionists, both black and white, free and enslaved, who aided the fugitives. Various other routes led to Mexico or overseas. An earlier escape route running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late 17th century until Florida became a United States territory in 1821. However, the network now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the late 1700s, and it ran north to the free states and Canada, and reached its height between 1850 and 1860. One estimate suggests that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the "Railroad".

Harriet Tubman African-American abolitionist

Harriet Tubman was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved people, family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the United States Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the struggle for women's suffrage.

William Still American activist, abolitionist, historian, and businessman

William Still was an African-American abolitionist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, businessman, writer, historian and civil rights activist. Before the American Civil War, Still was chairman of the Vigilance Committee of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. He directly aided fugitive slaves and also kept records of the people served in order to help families reunite.

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Act of the United States Congress

The Fugitive Slave Act or Fugitive Slave Law was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers.

Pearl incident nonviolent escape attempt by enslaved people in United States

The Pearl Incident was the largest recorded nonviolent escape attempt by slaves in United States history. On April 15, 1848, seventy-seven slaves attempted to escape Washington D.C. by sailing away on a schooner called The Pearl. Their plan was to sail south on the Potomac River, then north up the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River to the free state of New Jersey, a distance of nearly 225 miles (362 km). The attempt was organized by both abolitionist whites and free blacks, who expanded the plan to include many more slaves. Paul Jennings, a former slave who had served President James Madison, helped plan the escape.

Levi Coffin American educator and abolitionist

Levi Coffin was an American Quaker, abolitionist, farmer, businessman and humanitarian. An active leader in the Underground Railroad in Indiana and Ohio, some unofficially called Coffin the "President of the Underground Railroad," estimating that three thousand fugitive slaves passed through his care. The Coffin home in Fountain City, Wayne County, Indiana is now a museum, sometimes called the Underground Railroad's "Grand Central Station".

Thomas Garrett American abolitionist

Thomas Garrett was an American abolitionist and leader in the Underground Railroad movement before the American Civil War.

Edmonson sisters Mary Edmonson and Emily Edmonson

Mary Edmonson (1832–1853) and Emily Edmonson (1835–1895), "two respectable young women of light complexion", were African Americans who became celebrities in the United States abolitionist movement after gaining their freedom from slavery. On April 15, 1848, they were among the 77 slaves who tried to escape from Washington, DC on the schooner The Pearl to sail up the Chesapeake Bay to freedom in New Jersey.

History of slavery in Kentucky

The history of slavery in Kentucky dates from the earliest permanent European settlements in the state, until the end of the Civil War. Kentucky was classified as the Upper South or a Border state, and enslaved African Americans represented up to 25% of the population before the Civil War, concentrated in the cities of Louisville and Lexington, both in the fertile Bluegrass Region, a center of tobacco plantations and horse farms.

Boston Vigilance Committee US abolitionist organization

The Boston Vigilance Committee (1841-1861) was an abolitionist organization formed in Boston, Massachusetts, to protect escaped slaves from being kidnapped and returned to slavery in the South. The Committee aided hundreds of escapees, most of whom arrived as stowaways on coastal trading vessels and stayed a short time before moving on to Canada or England. Notably, members of the Committee provided legal and other aid to George Latimer, Ellen and William Craft, Shadrach Minkins, Thomas Sims, and Anthony Burns.

William Parker was a former slave who escaped from Maryland to Pennsylvania, where he became an abolitionist and anti-slavery activist in Christiana. He was a farmer and led a black self-defense organization. He was notable as a principal figure in the Christiana incident, 1851, also known as the Christiana Resistance. Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland slaveowner who owned four slaves who had fled over the state border to Parker's farm, was killed and other white men in the party to capture the fugitives were wounded. The events brought national attention to the challenges of enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Samuel Snowden was a 19th-century African-American abolitionist and pastor of the May Street Church, one of the first black Methodist churches in Boston, Massachusetts. Under Reverend Snowden's direction from 1818 to 1850, the May Street Church congregation supported the Underground Railroad; members included several prominent abolitionists, such as David Walker from North Carolina. Snowden was born into slavery in the South, but later reached the North and began his career as a pastor.

Leonard Grimes African-American abolitionist and pastor

Leonard Andrew Grimes was an African-American abolitionist and pastor. He served as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, including his efforts to free fugitive slave Anthony Burns captured in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. After the Civil War began, Grimes petitioned for African-American enlistment. He then recruited soldiers for the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Abolitionism in the United States Movement to end slavery in the United States

Abolitionism in the United States was the movement before and during the American Civil War to end slavery in the United States. In the Americas and western Europe, abolitionism was a movement to end the Atlantic slave trade and set slaves free. In the 17th century, enlightenment thinkers condemned slavery on humanistic grounds and English Quakers and some Evangelical denominations condemned slavery as un-Christian. At that time, most slaves were Africans, but thousands of Native Americans were also enslaved. In the 18th century, as many as six million Africans were transported to the Americas as slaves, at least a third of them on British ships to North America. The colony of Georgia originally abolished slavery within its territory, and thereafter, abolition was part of the message of the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s in the Thirteen Colonies.

Snow Riot 1835 race riot in Washington, D.C.

The Snow Riot was a riot and lynch mob in Washington, D.C. in August 1835. An attack on free blacks in the city by whites, the Snow Riot wreaked havoc on anything affiliated with free blacks for days by robbing and destroying all of their establishments. The name of the riot comes from one of the first destinations the mob attacked, the restaurant owned by a free black man, Beverly Snow's Epicurean Eating House. After attacking the restaurant, the mob destroyed the school Arthur Bowen went to, because he was suspected of being taught the abolition of slavery there. The larger context of the attack on the school was the white working-class men's frustration over free blacks' ability to work, and their resentment of black competition for jobs. The clear result was the unleashing of white terror against blacks. The riot began on 12 August 1835 and continued for days in the nation's capital, and it was not until President Andrew Jackson intervened that it stopped.

Michael Shiner

Michael G. Shiner (1805–1880) was an African-American Navy Yard worker and diarist who chronicled events in Washington D.C. for more than 60 years, first as a slave and later as a free man. His diary entries have provided historians a first hand account of the War of 1812, the British Invasion of Washington, the burning of the U.S. Capitol and Navy Yard, and the rescue of his family from slavery as well as shipyard working conditions, racial tensions and other issues and events of 19th century military and civilian life.

Slave labor on United States military installations 1799–1863

Slave labor on United States military installations was a common sight in the first half of the nineteen century, for agencies and departments of the federal government were deeply involved in the use of enslaved blacks. In fact, the United States military were the largest federal employers of rented or leased slaves throughout the antebellum period. In 1816, a visitor to the Washington Navy Yard wrote that master blacksmith Benjamin King estimated daily expense for a slave as twenty-seven cents and noted how lucrative the business. Navy was paying eighty cents per day for black workers while white blacksmiths were paid $1.81 per diem. English visitor and author, Lady Emmeline Stuart Wortley, writing in the late 1840s, marked the prevalence of slave labor at the Washington Navy Yard: "We saw a sadder sight after that, a large number of slaves, who seemed to be forging their own chains, but they were making chains, anchors, &c., for the United States Navy."

George Teamoh

George Teamoh was born enslaved in Norfolk, Virginia, worked at the Fort Monroe, the Norfolk Naval Yard and other military installations before the American Civil War, escaped to freedom in New York and moved to Massachusetts circa 1853, and returned to Virginia after the war to became a community leader, member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1868 and then Virginia Senate during the Reconstruction era, and finally an author in his final years. Teamoh's autobiography is remarkable for his clear rebuke of the military's use of slave labor and the federal government's role both in perpetuating slavery and failing to protect newly emancipated blacks.

I have worked in every Department in the Navy Yard and Dry-Dock, as a laborer, and this during very long years of unrequited toil, and the same might be said of the vast numbers, reaching to thousands of slaves who have been worked, lashed and bruised by the United States government ...

<i>Joe Thompson vs Walter Clarke</i>

Joe Thompson vs Walter Clarke was decided in December 1817.

Anna Maria Weems was an American woman known for escaping slavery by disguising herself as a male carriage driver and escaping to Canada, where her family was settled with other slave fugitives.

References

  1. 1 2 Smallwood, Thomas (1851). "A Narrative of Thomas Smallwood, (Coloured Man:) Giving an Account of His Birth — The Period He Was Held in Slavery — His Release — and Removal to Canada, etc. Together With an Account of the Underground Railroad. Written by Himself". James Stephens.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Harrold, Stanley (2003). Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, D.C., 1828–1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. pp. 54–85. ISBN   0-8071-2838-4.
  3. Harrold,p78.
  4. Sandrine Ferré-Rode A Black Voice from the “other North:” Thomas Smallwood’s Canadian Narrative (1851) Revue française d’études américaines 2013/3 (No 137) https://www.cairn-int.info/focus-E_RFEA_137_0023--a-black-voice-from-the-other.htm accessed 22 April 22, 2018
  5. Sharp, John G. African Americans In Slavery and Freedom on the Washington Navy Yard 1799 -1865 Hannah Morgan Press:Concord Ca,2011,16.
  6. Sharp, n.62.
  7. "Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989," database with images, FamilySearch.org, Necropolis Cemetery, image 7 of 221, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, Toronto.