From time to time historians are able to uncover, or recover, true stories that have faded from memory. Fortunately, in the past 20 years ago historians have recovered the story of Abraham Galloway: spy, abolitionist, and legislator.
Galloway was born in 1837 along the east coast of North Carolina to a white father and a black (and enslaved) woman. Interestingly, his father did not reject him (as usually happened in that day), but continued to look after him, even though young Abraham was born into slavery and was owned by another man. Nevertheless, his father arranged for Abraham to be taught how to be a brick Mason. The young man had to bring in $15 a month for his master.
Abraham tired of toiling for someone else without being paid for it, and yearned for his freedom. In 1857 he risked his life by stowing aboard a ship in Wilmington NC, and sailed away to freedom.
During the Civil War, he returned to where he grew up, this time hired out as a spy for the Union. Union generals commended him for his invaluable service as a spy, as well for ushering hundreds of slaves off plantations and into the freedom of Union lines. While Abraham was also bringing enslaved Americans to liberty, he also organized them to work and fight for the Union army.
In 1864 he led a delegation of 144 black leaders to the White House to meet President Lincoln in order to tell him of the plight and needs of “contraband” formerly enslaved Americans. In 1865 he led another large group at the National Convention of Colored Citizens of the United States. In 1868 Galloway ran for the state Senate in North Carolina…and won! What is even more amazing about this man is that he did all of this, and never learned to read or write!
As a member of the North Carolina state legislature, he was one of three black senators (and there were only eighteen black representatives in the House). While he was a state senator, he was able to vote for both 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution, recognizing citizenship and voting rights to formerly enslaved Americans.
Tragically, Senator Galloway died of a fever and jaundice on September 1, 1870. He was only 33. He funeral was attended by some 6,000 mourners. His story “missed” the history books for the past 150 years, but thankfully much of his life is now known again.