Abraham Galloway (8 February 1837 – 1 September 1870) was an American escaped slave, abolitionist, mason, spy for the union army, women’s suffragist, and state Senator.
Born in Smithville (now Southport, North Carolina) in 1837. A former slave who played an important role in supporting the Union Army's success in North Carolina, he served in the North Carolina senate during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War. His death in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1870 was honored by attendance from over 6,000 people.
He is remembered, in part, by a historical marker placed in Wilmington in 2012, a project spearheaded by a local committee, now known as the "Friends of Abraham Galloway", as recorded in the Wilmington Journal.
Although he was a driving force in shaping local and state political direction during his brief lifetime, Abraham Galloway left no record of his own thoughts and ideas, being unable to read or write. William Still, abolitionist and corresponding secretary for the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, records the escape of Galloway and his friend Richard Eden from Wilmington to Philadelphia, stowed among the cargo of a schooner carrying naval stores; pine tar and turpentine. Due to the hazardness of this particular journey, Still counts Galloway and Eden as "classed among the bravest of the brave". The Vigilance Committee provided passage to Canada for the two men.
Within this century, historians and writers have uncovered Galloway's story, and continue to strengthen our knowledge of this Civil War personality. David Cecelski, through The Watermans Song (ISBN 978-0-8078-4972-9, Published: October 2001) and The Fire of Freedom (ISBN 978-1-4696-2190-6, Published: February 2015), brings the story of Abraham Galloway to life. An article by Phillip Gerard, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, in Our State magazine also highlights this historical vignette.
Abraham Galloway was born to a White father and a Black slave mother in Smithville, (now Southport) North Carolina. His birth father, John Wesley Galloway, was protective of his son, despite the circumstances. Galloway’s owner, Marsden Milton Hankins allowed the young Galloway to seek brick masonry jobs with the provision that he could bring Hankins fifteen dollars a month. Galloway decided to escape when it became impossible for him to continue bringing his owner the fifteen dollars. In 1857, at the age of twenty, Galloway was able to escape from slavery by having a ship captain conceal him among barrels of turpentine, tar and rosin. In hiding, Galloway was able to escape from Wilmington, NC to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Four years after his escape, Galloway returned to North Carolina, as the Civil War was beginning. During the Civil War Galloway worked as a spy for the Union army. As the chief intelligence agent working among the slaves in North Carolina, he was able to encourage many of them to join the war on the Union side. By the spring of 1863, Galloway is said to have become the most important political leader among the more than 10,000 slaves who were living in contraband camps and seaports occupied by the Federal army.
In May 1864 Galloway was part of a delegation of five black leaders who met with Abraham Lincoln and urged him to advocate for suffrage for African Americans. That same year, Galloway was also one of the 144 Black leaders who attended the National Convention of Colored Citizens of the United States, which has been cited as the most important gathering of African American leaders during the Civil War. By 1865, Galloway had organized a state chapter and five local chapters of the National Equal Rights League. In September 29, 1865, Galloway helped to lead a freed people’s convention. He also organized a meeting of 117 Black delegates representing forty two counties that coincided with a meeting held by the antebellum society.
Galloway moved to Wilmington, North Carolina’s largest city at the time, in late 1866 or early 1867. While in Wilmington, Galloway observed that the rights of Blacks were not being protected. Blacks, however, did see a victory in 1867, when the Reconstruction Acts were passed by the radical congress, which forced the former confederacy to pass Universal Male Suffrage. In 1868, despite threats from the Ku Klux Klan, Galloway ran for the state senate in the first election in which Blacks were eligible to hold state office.
Galloway was one of three Black senators and seventeen Black representatives in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1868. On July 6, 1868, Galloway amended a proposal to segregate the senate galleries by offering an optional middle section that could be occupied by both races. Galloway was able to vote for the 14th and 15th amendments during his tenure. He was also a strong supporter of Women’s rights.
Galloway died unexpectedly of fever and jaundice on September 1, 1870. He was 33 years old at the time and had just been reelected to the senate. An estimated 6,000 mourners gathered at his funeral.