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The story of one man’s fight for freedom

There are stories being told again now, during February, Black History Month, that The Legal Genealogist has heard before.

Stories about people like Harriet Tubman who escaped slavery and then helped other enslaved people escape to the North on the Underground Railroad.1

People like Frederick Douglass, the fiery abolitionist speaker and writer who mesmerized audiences.2

People like John Scobell, formerly enslaved in Mississippi whose role as a spy in the intelligence unit headed by Allan Pinkerton is celebrated even by the CIA.3

People like Hiram Rhodes Revels, one of the first African Americans to be elected to public office — and the first to serve as a United States Senator.4

People like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who helped found and form the civil rights movement.5

People like Abraham Galloway.

Um… wait.

Abraham Galloway?

Yes, Abraham Galloway. Who escaped from slavery. Led others to freedom. Was renowned as a speaker. Served as a spy and leader of a network of spies during the Civil War. Was elected as a state senator. And who created and led a growing civil rights movement, personally lobbying Abraham Lincoln. A man so significant to his time that 6,000 people attended his funeral.

That Abraham Galloway.

A man I for one had never heard of, until a piece on Galloway’s life crossed my news feed yesterday.6

A little bit of research bears out every bit of the article’s telling of Galloway’s amazing story, a story that is powerfully told in a book by North Carolina historian Dr. David S. Cecelski.7 The UNC Press’ online blurb on the book reads:

“Abraham H. Galloway (1837-1870) was a fiery young slave rebel, radical abolitionist, and Union spy who rose out of bondage to become one of the most significant and stirring black leaders in the South during the Civil War. Throughout his brief, mercurial life, Galloway fought against slavery and injustice. He risked his life behind enemy lines, recruited black soldiers for the North, and fought racism in the Union army’s ranks. He also stood at the forefront of an African American political movement that flourished in the Union-occupied parts of North Carolina, even leading a historic delegation of black southerners to the White House to meet with President Lincoln and to demand the full rights of citizenship. He later became one of the first black men elected to the North Carolina legislature.”8

More information on Galloway’s life, and Cecelski’s research, can also be found in an episode of A Storied Past: North Carolina’s African American History, a video series from the North Carolina Museum of History. Just seven minutes long, Abraham Galloway: An American Story is a riveting tale that can’t help but capture the imagination.

It’s a life that impacted so many of our own families, in North Carolina and beyond. It’s a story of courage and commitment. It’s a tale that needs to be told, and incorporated into our own research.

How Galloway’s story was lost to time, until brought back into the light by Cecelski’s book and the attention being paid to it this year, is mindboggling.

But let it be lost no more.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Lost no more,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 11 Feb 2020).


  1. Harriet Tubman Biography,” ( : accessed 11 Feb 2020).
  2. Ibid., “Frederick Douglass Biography.”
  3. P.K. Rose, “The Civil War: Black Contributions to Union Intelligence,” CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, ( : accessed 11 Feb 2020).
  4. Hiram R. Revels Biography,” ( : accessed 11 Feb 2020).
  5. Martin Luther King Jr. Biography.”
  6. See Cameron Clinard, “THIS NC MAN WAS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT CIVIL WAR LEADERS, BUT HE WAS ERASED FROM HISTORY FOR 100 YEARS,”, posted 10 Feb 2020 ( : accessed 10 Feb 2020).
  7. David S. Cecelski, The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves’ Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
  8. The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves’ Civil War,” UNC Press ( : accessed 11 Feb 2020).
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