Cobbler by day, abolitionist at night, Abraham Shadd honored by Delaware

Janmichael Shadd Graine (left) with Gov. John Carney, stands at the new historic marker honoring his great great great great grandfather. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Janmichael Shadd Graine (left) with Gov. John Carney, stands at the new historic marker honoring his great great great great grandfather. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Abraham Shadd was a prominent abolitionist in Wilmington who provided lodging for fugitive enslaved people who had fled Southern states.

A cobbler who ran his father’s shoemaking shop by day, Shadd was involved in the American Anti-Slavery Society and a leading delegate at the national convention of freed Black men in Philadelphia in the 1840s.

Abraham Shadd was a cobbler by day, abolitionist by night. (State of Delaware)

He moved to Ontario, Canada 1850, taking his wife Harriet and their 13 children to evade capture and the possibility of his family being enslaved. He later became one of the first Black elected officials in his new country, and later assisted formerly enslaved and freed people in their immigration into Canada.

Shadd died in 1882 but on Wednesday — 140 years later and to kick off Black History Month — Delaware officials honored him with a plaque outside the government offices for the state and Wilmington governments.

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The ceremony drew four descendants of Shadd and a handful of city and state officials at Peter Spencer Plaza, near his family’s long ago-demolished home on the East Side. The plaza commemorates Spencer, a preacher who founded the first independent Black denomination in America in 1813.

“It’s essential that we take time to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans, honor the legacies and achievements of past generations, reckon with centuries of injustice and confront those injustices that fester today,” Gov. John Carney told the gathering.

Janmichael Shadd Graine, the great-great-great-great grandson of the honoree, is a former colonel at the U.S. Army Reserve center west of Wilmington. Shadd Graine, who now lives in Silver Spring, Md., said he was elated to return to Delaware to see the “standard bearer” of his family recognized.

He said Shadd, who was born in 1801, moved to West Chester, Pa., in 1833 in no small part because he feared repercussions for his work on the Underground Railroad.

“He being a Black man had to be very secretive about being abolitionist because he wouldn’t have been fined, he would have been probably killed if he had been caught,’’ Shadd Graine said. “So you know, of course, he didn’t didn’t write it down.”

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State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker said honoring Shadd, whose contributions are little known in the general public, piggybacks on a new law that will require Delaware schools to teach Black history.

“Moments like these will be included in our curriculum for our children to be able to tell their children for generations to come because Black history is American history,” Dorsey Walker said.

Dorsey Walker said people of all races need to “know each other’s history so that we can appreciate one another and understand and have an appreciation for our cultures and the richness of each of our heritages. That’s why I’m a proud Black woman, because I understand that I come from kings and queens.”

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