A real treasure, a goose-bumps object, came to the Delaware Historical Society this year: the silver tray that Wilmington’s African Americans presented to Thomas Garrett in 1866 at the celebration of the third anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, held at Ezion ME Church (now Ezion-Mount Carmel United Methodist Church).
Thomas Garrett is well known as Delaware’s leading conductor on the Underground Railroad. He worked untiringly and took great risks to help many enslaved people claim their freedom. It’s difficult to express thanks and appreciation for such a great gift—no words, no physical object can measure up to what is meant by freedom, even the second-class freedom that blacks had to accept. That was the quandary that faced Wilmington’s black citizens late in 1865, with the Civil War over and slavery ended in the United States: how do we honor the man who did so much for us?
This is what they did: they raised money from the community and had a silver tray engraved with this inscription: “To Thomas Garrett through evil report and good report, the faithful friend and wise councilor, The fearless champion and generous benefactor of the wronged and the oppressed. From the colored people of Wilmington. January 1866.” Simple and dignified words that said exactly what needed to be said.
The tray remained in the Garrett family until descendant Laura Patrick generously donated it, along with a family tea service, to the Delaware Historical Society in 1983.