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Garrett, McCollin, and Vail family papers

Identifier: HC.MC-950-081

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the correspondence of the Garrett, McCollin, and Vail families. Writers include Ann Garrett, Edward Garrett, Margaret Malin Garrett, Thomas Garrett, Anna Garrett McCollin, James Garrett McCollin, John McCollin, Anna Garrett Vail, and Benjamin Vail.

One letter to Margaret Malin Garrett from William Biddle includes an (undated) account of a Quarterly Meeting in which he offers quick reviews of those who spoke, including Mary Ann Loyd, whose "ministry is far from edifying to some of us." The letters from Thomas Garrett (1789-1871) were sent to Ann Garrett (his sister), Sarah Garrett (his mother), 'J + M McCollin,' the James Garrett McCollin family, James Garrett McCollin, and 'Children.' One letter to Ann Garrett includes an incident in which an Irish teenager set his dog on a young black child, whose mother attempted to come to the rescue. She was attacked by the father of the teenager and murdered. Garrett's response is frustration when the killer goes free: "according to the Dred Scott decision, it is all right, as the Colour'd man in this country has no rights that the white man is bound to respect." Garrett goes on to say that "this is the second Colour'd person that has been killed in this town within six weeks by Irishmen." Later, Garrett says that "those who honestly and conscientiously acts up to their best convictions of Duty, both to themselves and their fellow men without regard to nation, or colour, must be comparatively happy, even when in straiten'd circumstances." He describes himself as in financial difficulty and having challenges paying his bills or getting help from others to do so. A letter (written February 15, 1862) to his children mentions anti-slavery lectures being held in Delaware, as well as his take on the progress of the Civil War. Another letter to his "kinsfolks" expresses happiness at the capture by the Union forces of "the entire rail road from Charleston to Savannah," which Garrett refers to as "the district of country above all others that ought to suffer, in my opinion." Garrett lays the blame for the Civil War at the feet of South Carolina. A letter to his son James asks James to take on "a young man" of about 20 as a farm worker and to be educated. Only later is it mentioned that this young man is "one of the most respectable color'd men in this place." Later in the same letter he expresses frustration with General McClellan, saying that after recent losses "it is no use for the President, Stanton, or the Generals to try to conquer the Southern Traitors, and save Slavery. They will have to give up slavery, or submit to be conquered by the rebels, with the aid of their slaves. ... If the President would once boldly proclaim Emancipation to all the slaves in the Rebel states unconditionally and then arm them the war would soon be brought to a close, but a peace sustaining slavery would not be worth one tenth of what it has cost, in men, and treasure." This letter was written in August 1862, a month before the Emancipation Proclamation was announced. One of the letters from James Garrett McCollin to his wife-to-be includes a short lock of blonde hair. This letter writes of unspecified difficulties with their meeting or Quaker process which prevented their marriage. This letter is dated 1848; the letter addressed to "wife" is undated. A letter to James Garrett McCollin from John McCollin, dated December 8, 1859, is devoted to the question of slavery and secession. McCollin says, reacting to a rumor that "the chivalrous South" would be drawing and quartering John Brown's corpse, "it is a sad warning to all who undertake to use force instead of moral weapons." Also includes a debate about slavery and union: "Do we love union? Then we must make slavery a national institution. The question then is what is preferable: to preserve this union, or to obey the laws of God?" Most of the letters to Benjamin Vail offer sympathy for his illness, which appears to have been nerve related and chronic. Also included are miscellaneous letters.

Biographical and genealogical materials included in this collection include certificates of travel for Thomas Garrett (1746-1751; an ancestor of the antislavery activist); Garrett family genealogies (4); a Thomas Garrett biography, written in January 1871, which includes anecdotes of his antislavery work and his life in general, as well as genealogical information on the Garrett family; a Philip Garrett estate inventory, 1851; and the will of Margaret McCollin, 1863.

Miscellaneous materials include a hymn by John T. Sergeant, copied by Thomas Garrett; invitations (mostly to dine) to Thomas Garrett (7), 1811-1815, and to Benjamin and Anna Vail for the 1911 Westtown graduation exercises; share release of Mine Hill and Schuykill Haven Railroad Company to Susan H. Garrett; records of the July 15th, 1838 meeting of the "northern district," regarding a visit and ministry by John Justice, as well as records of the August 5th, 1829 testimony given by Stephen Grellette.


  • Creation: 1820-1920


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Standard Federal Copyright Laws Apply (U.S. Title 17).

Biographical Note

Thomas Garrett (1789-1871) was an abolitionist and leader in the Underground Railroad movement before the American Civil War. Garrett was born into a prosperous landowning Quaker family on their homestead in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, in what is now Drexel Hill in Upper Darby. During the Quaker schism of 1827-1828, Garrett, a Hicksite, split with his Orthodox family and moved to Wilmington, Delaware. He established an iron and hardware business. Garrett openly worked as a Station Master on the last stop of the Underground Railroad in the state. The authorities were aware of his activities. Although he was never arrested, in 1848, he and a fellow Quaker, John Hunn, were tried and found guilty of helping a family of slaves escape. Because he was the architect of the escape, Garrett was fined $4,500. Garrett was also a friend and benefactor to Harriet Tubman, who passed through his station many times, during which he frequently provided her with money and shoes to continue her missions. Garrett said he "only helped 2,700" slaves before the Civil War put an end to slavery. During the Civil War, his house was guarded by the free African Americans of Wilmington. During the passage of the 15th Amendment, giving African American males the right to vote, the African Americans of Wilmington carried him through the streets in an open carriage with a label, "Our Moses." Thomas Garrett died on January 25, 1871, at the age of 81. His body, on a bier, was borne on the shoulders of freed blacks to the Quaker Meeting House on West 4th Street in Wilmington, where he was interred. A municipal park in Wilmington is named Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park after the two Underground Railroad agents and friends.


0.22 linear ft.

Language of Materials



This collection contains the correspondence of the Garrett, McCollin, and Vail families.


Donation of Ruth Masters Russell Vail.

Related Materials

HC.MC.1013 Thomas P. Cope papers

Processing Information

Processed by Mary A. Crauderueff; completed February, 2016.

Garrett, McCollin, and Vail family papers, 1820-1920
Mary A. Crauderueff
February, 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

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