Henry H. Garnet

Henry H. Garnet

Henry Highland Garnet was born a slave in New Market, Maryland, in 1815. He escaped in 1824 and made his way to New York where he studied at the Oneida Theological Institute in Whitesboro before becoming a Presbyterian minister in Troy, New York.

Garnet joined the Anti-Slavery Society and became one of the organizations leading lecturers. However, in 1843 he was disowned by the society when he called upon slaves to murder their masters.

Garnet served as a pastor in Jamaica (1853-56) but returned to the United States during the Civil War and demanded that Abraham Lincoln permit the enlistment of African-American soldiers.

In 1864 Garnet was appointed pastor of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington. During this period he became the first African-American to deliver a sermon before the House of Representatives. He also worked for the Freedmen's Bureau, where he was involved in developing programs to help former slaves.

In 1881 Henry Highland Garnet was appointed minister to Liberia. However, he died two months later on 13th February, 1882.

Primary Sources

(1) Henry Highland Garnet, speech on slavery in Buffalo, New York (16 August 1843)

Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, the first of our injured race were brought to the shores of America. They came not with glad spirits to select their homes, in the New World. They came not with their own consent, to find an unmolested enjoyment of the blessings of this fruitful soil. The first dealings which they had with men calling themselves Christians, exhibited to them the worst features of corrupt and sordid hearts; and convinced them that no cruelty is too great, no villainy, and no robbery too abhorrent for even enlightened men to perform, when influenced by avarice, and lust. Neither did they come flying upon the wings of Liberty, to a land of freedom. But, they came with broken hearts, from their beloved native land, and were doomed to unrequited toil, and deep degradation. Nor did the evil of the bondage end at their emancipation by death. Succeeding generations inherited their chains, and millions have come from eternity into time, and have returned again to the world of spirits, cursed and ruined by American Slavery.

The propagators of the system, or their immediate ancestors very soon discovered its growing evil, and its tremendous wickedness and secret promises were made to destroy it. The gross inconsistency of a people holding slaves, who had themselves "ferried o'er the wave," for freedom's sake, was too apparent to be entirely overlooked. The voice of Freedom cried, "emancipate your Slaves." Humanity supplicated with tears, for the deliverance of the children of Africa. Wisdom urged her solemn plea. The bleeding captive plead his innocence, and pointed to Christianity who stood weeping at the cross. Jehovah frowned upon the nefarious institution, and thunderbolts, red with vengeance, struggled to leap forth to blast the guilty wretches who maintained it. But all was vain. Slavery had stretched its dark wings of death over the land, the Church stood silently by—the priests prophesied falsely, and the people loved to have it so. Its throne is established, and now it reigns triumphantly.

Nearly three millions of your fellow citizens, are prohibited by law, and public opinion (which in this country is stronger than law), from reading the Book of Life. Your intellect has been destroyed as much as possible, and every ray of light they have attempted to shut out from your minds. The oppressors themselves have become involved in the ruin. They have become weak, sensual, and rapacious. They have cursed you—they have cursed themselves—they have cursed the earth which they have trod. In the language of a Southern statesman, we can truly say "even the wolf, driven back long since by the approach of man now returns after a lapse of a hundred years, and howls amid the desolation of slavery."