Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Abraham Doras Shadd, Part II

In the last post, we covered Abraham's grandparents, Hans and Elizabeth "Betty Jackson" Schad, and his parents, Jeremiah and Amelia (and Amelia) Shadd. Up until this point, the family was well-known and successful (especially considering that they were black, or at least "mulatto") in the local area, but starting with Abraham, their notoriety would extend to the national, and international, level.

As noted, Abraham Doras Shadd (likely named after a prominent black Wilmington barber, Abraham Doras) was born into a vibrant and successful family. He spent his early life following in his father's footsteps, becoming a shoemaker. Although he and his family were successful and freely intermingled with white society, they made no attempt to remove themselves from black society. Shadd, not surprisingly, was strongly anti-slavery, but remained uninvolved with the fight until a new movement arose in the late 1810's to which he was fiercely opposed.

The African Colonization Society, leaders in the "Back to Africa" Movement, became prominent by the early 1820's, culminating in the establishment of the nation of Liberia in 1822. Shadd was incensed by this concept, instead preferring blacks be allowed to integrate into society the way his family had done, through freedom, education, and hard work. When the Union Colonization Society of Wilmington was formed in 1824, Shadd could stay silent no more. He began to become more and more involved in the burgeoning black abolitionist movement. He attended meetings and conferences locally and in Philadelphia, including one in September 1830 that represented one of the first national meetings of black abolitionists. A year later, he was elected as the vice president of another national meeting in Philadelphia.

1833 was an important year in the life of Abraham Shadd. First, he moved himself and his family out of Delaware, north to West Chester, PA. There were two main factors that precipitated the move to Pennsylvania. First, the climate towards blacks had become increasingly hostile in Delaware -- still a slave state, remember. Secondly, Abraham and his wife, Harriet, had four daughters and one son by 1833. There was at the time only one school for black children in Wilmington, it met only once a week, and most importantly for the Shadds, it did not admit girls. West Chester, with its even greater Quaker influence, offered a much better opportunity for the education of the Shadd children.

Secondly, while attending the Third Annual Convention for the Improvement of the Free People of Colour in Philadelphia, Abraham Shadd was elected its president. While this was admittedly a ceremonial role, it did show Shadd's growing prominence among black abolitionists. Abraham Shadd didn't just talk about helping slaves, though -- he actively participated in securing their freedom. Although these things are, by their very nature, secretive and often difficult to verify, but it seems the Shadd's homes in Wilmington, and later West Chester, were used as stops on the Underground Railroad. I'm uncertain whether the family had much of a presence in Mill Creek Hundred by the time of Shadd's activism.

There was one other cause which Shadd believed in, and would in fact partake in himself -- voluntary black emigration to Canada. Three years after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Shadd followed his own teaching and moved his family to North Buxton, Ontario. In 1858, he became the first black man to be elected to political office in Canada, when he won a spot as a Counselor of Raleigh Township, ON. However impressive Abraham's life was, his children were at least equally successful. His oldest daughter, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, was herself an educator, journalist, abolitionist, and women's rights advocate. His oldest son, Isaac, was a newspaper publisher and also served in the Mississippi legislature from 1871-1874. Another son, Abraham, graduated from Howard University Law Department and practiced in Arkansas and Mississippi. A younger Shadd daughter, Eunice, received a teaching degree from Howard and worked as an educator.

Although Abraham Shadd and his family are little remembered today, even in their home area, their legacy is a rich one that greatly deserves to be preserved.


  1. Great posts about the Shadd family. One of my distant ancestors married one of Abraham Shadd's daughter - Ada Teresa Shadd. I was VERY excited to find a connection to the Shadd's in my genealogical tree due to my interest in the history of my own local area of NW OH and SE MI along with me knowing of the illustrious legacy of the Shadd family.

    I also have a lot of genealogical connections to DE and PA due to various other families in my tree that moved to Canada from that area around the same time that the Shadd family emigrated. One of my 4th great grandfathers - Nathan Bailey Enos also lived in Chester County, PA and was originally from DE and lived for a time in the Hinsonville community of Chester County, PA before selling his land and moving to SE Ontario in the North Buxton community. It is interesting how connected the free "colored" population were in that time period and how involved they were in the UGRR.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Always nice to hear from people who have connections to the stories.