Dickinson College / Gilder Lehrman Institute

Abraham Galloway; Slave, Bricklayer, Fugitive, Abolitionist, Spy,…

…(aka BMI-ster), Guide, Recruiter, Organizer, Political Activist, Firebrand, Military Leader, Crusader for Women’s Rights, Senator… and dead before the age of 34.

Now that is a life!

Abraham Galloway

Abraham Galloway

Abraham Galloway, born enslaved, freed himself and was an important figure in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was an important figure in freed and enslaved African American communities throughout his adult life. And rather than saying he worked for the Union army, it might be more accurate to say he worked with the Union army when and if it suited his needs as a leader of the African American community. (When the community was aggrieved by the actions and behaviors of the Union troops, for example, Galloway took names and kicked… but I digress.)

Illiterate, his story and his voice are hard to trace, but historian David Cecelski of North Carolina got lucky and found a trove of letters written by Mary Ann Starkey of New Bern, NC. Starkey was a close confident and fellow activist who worked with Galloway during the Civil War years.Together with his other sources, Starkey’s letters made possible Cecelski’s forthcoming book on Galloway.

I have used the information from Cecelski’s essay on Galloway in The Waterman’s Song,  to make a google map of Galloway’s life. He lived large. Zoom way out right away, so that you can see the whole enchilada – North Carolina to Ontario, Ohio to Massachusetts.

I am only up to the year 1863 tonight. More tomorrow. Meanwhile, here is a preview:

In the next few years after 1963, he:

  • Met with Abraham Lincoln as part of a five man delegation agitating for suffrage immediately, if not sooner
  • Was elected to the North Carolina legislature as a Senator in 1868
  • Worked always for the advancement of freedmen and freedwomen
  •  Died unexpectedly in 1870; it was estimated that 6,000 to 8,000 people attended his funeral in New Bern.*

*The population of the New Bern NC at that time was 5,000.

Galloway was the man. And then he faded from view.

Cecelski’s book on the life of Abraham Galloway, The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves’ Civil War will be released on September 29th, 2012. ( Or you can pre-order it from Amazon, like I did, and save a few bucks.) I strongly recommend you do, too, because Galloway is a guy we are enriched by meeting.

AbrahamGallowayJaneThis is the drawing of Abraham Galloway as I imagined him while I listened to David Cecelski introduce him to me, my NEH buddy Kelly Price-Steffen, (Shout out to ya, Kelly!) and the New Bedford Historical Society last summer.

Now I know it is not a good drawing; he defies gravity and looks like he is related to Burt Reynolds, and yet I feel it conveys the swashbuckling element I intended.


Men in Black


A necessary journey south


  1. aforss

    Awesome post! I loved your drawing of Galloway as a Prince/Malcolm X
    BMI kind of guy. When did you find the time to whip up a Google Map of Galloway’s life?! Excellent research. Think I’ll do the ole CASE method and add some of you fun facts to my historical scavenger hunt findings.

  2. salbertson

    Very cool. Exciting to see all these great finds! Nice work and loved your drawing also. Maybe I should stop watching the Olympics and be more productive at night. 🙂

  3. janeapplebee

    Thanks for the kind feedback, Amy and Shirley! I have to say the map was time consuming, but I can see that it would get quicker with practice. I started by taking notes by year from Cecelski’s essay and putting them into spreadsheet. Then I pasted them into the comments section as I added markers to the map. It was a labor of love, I have wanted to use both Galloway and Google Maps in my classes before but hadn’t found time to learn how to do it or to prepare anything.

    Now, Amy, I feel embarrassed to ask this, but what is CASE method? How does it work? (And how did it get ‘ole without me having heard of it?) I am intrigued. When I look online I mostly find it as a method of teaching law, then I saw this site http://www.udel.edu/dssep/teaching_strategies/casestudy.htm. Is this the sort of thing you are referring to? If you could give me an example of how I could use it with Galloway, or an example of something you have used it with, I would really appreciate it.

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