Henry Highland Garnet was an Black American abolitionist, minister, orator, educator, and leader.

Henry H. Garnet was born into slavery in New Market, Kent County, Maryland, on December 23, 1815, to parents George and Henrietta Trusty. In 1824, when Henry was nine years old, his parents convinced their European American master to let them attend an funeral, but instead they gathered a total of 11 family members and escaped via underground railroad. They first traveled to Wilmington, Delaware and then to New York City. After settling in New York City George change the family name to “Garnet” as a sign of their new lives after slavery.


Henry education began at the African Free School. And in 1835, he started studying at the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire, but due to abolitionist activates, Henry was driven away from Noyes Academy by ab angry white segregationist mob. In 1841, Henry married Julia Ward Williams (July 1, 1811 – January 7, 1870) an Black American and fellow student at Noyes Academy. Together the couple had three children, only one survived to adulthood.


In 1834, Henry along with others prominent Black Americans, David Ruggles (March 15, 1810 – December 16, 1849) and William Howard Day (October 16, 1825 – December 3, 1900), created the Garrison Literary and Benevolent Association. The main purpose for the organization was to promote the abolition of slavery and the reformation of society.

Henry decided to complete his education at the Oneida Theological Institute in Whitesboro, New York. Henry graduated from the Institute in 1839, in the same year he injured his knee playing sports. His knee never recovered and his lower leg had to be amputated the following year. Henry began to pursue a spiritual path. He moved his family to Troy, New York and in 1840, he became a Presbyterian Minister and served as the first pastor of the Liberty Street Negro Presbyterian Church.


Henry Garnet later return to New York City, where he joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and work beside prominent Black leaders such as Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, (February 1818 – February 20, 1895). He spoke frequently at abolitionist conferences and became well-known for his skills as an orator. One of his famous speech, “Call to Rebellion” or “Address to the Slaves of the United States“, was delivered in August of 1843 to the National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York. In his address rather than sway European America to end slavery, he encouraged the slaves to obtain their freedom themselves by rising up against their owners. This was a radical idea for the time, and Fredrick Douglass and other Black American prominent leaders opposed it. The convention refused to endorse Garnet’s speech after taking a vote on the matter.

In 1850, Henry traveled to England and Scotland where he spoke widely against the practice of slavery. In 1850, he traveled to Jamaica to serve as a missionary. He later returned to United States and became pastor at the Shiloh Church in New York City. He continued his work to end slavery, but his influence had been some what diminished because of his radical views. Henry again found himself and his family targets of white anger, during the 1863, New York Draft Riot. The white mob crowed his street, but they were unable to located him and his family. In 1864, Henry along with Douglass and John Mercer Langston (December 14, 1829 – November 15, 1897), founded the National Equal Rights League, an organization dedicated to the liberation of Black people in United States.


Henry moved his family to Washington D.C. and on February in 1865, while in Washington, Henry mad history when he was chosen by United States 16th President Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865), to give a sermon before the House of Representative, in the Capital Building. Making him the first African American speaker to do so. On January 7, 1870, the Garnet’s household was struck by tragedy when Henry wife Julia passed away at the age 58. Nine years after his first wife death, Henry married again to Sarah J Tompkins/Smith (July 31, 1831 – September 17, 1911) an prominent Black American woman, school principal of New York public school system and founder of Equal suffrage League in Brooklyn, New York.

In November of 1881, United States 20th President James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881), appointed Henry to serve as United States minister and counsel general in Liberia (a position equivalent to ambassador today). Henry arrived in Liberia, Africa in December of 1881, but fell ill two months later while in Liberia. Henry died on February 13, 1882, in Monrovia, Africa and was buried at Palm Grove Cemetery in Monrovia. He was only 67 year old. Henry second wife died 29 years later in Brooklyn, New York at the age 80. Henry Highland Garnet only surviving daughter, Mrs. M. H. Garnet/Barboza, helped and organized a school in her father’s memory in Brewersville, Liberia.


6 thoughts on “Who was Henry Highland Garnet?

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