On September 1, 1870, Abraham Galloway — slave, abolitionist, spy, recruiter, and political leader — died in Wilmington, NC. He was only thirty-three years old when he succumbed to fever and jaundice. He was born to a white father and a black mother, who was a slave in Smithville, NC. His owner allowed him to seek masonry jobs, but when he could not earn the required $15 per month, Galloway decided to escape. At the age of 20, he hid on a ship loaded with turpentine and fled from Wilmington, NC to Philadelphia, PA. In Philadelphia, he became an abolitionist and began working with the Underground Railroad to help people escape to Canada. In 1860 Galloway traveled to Haiti to help recruit to prepare for a military invasion of the American south.
In 1861, Galloway returned to the US and began work as a spy for the Union under Major General Benjamin Butler. Galloway was captured at Vicksburg, and after his release or escape he made his way to New Bern. In 1863 he married Martha Ann Dixon in Beaufort. That same year he was able to free his mother from enslavement in Wilmington, and brought her to Union-held New Bern.
The Union Army needed troops and General Order No 143 of the US War Department, dated May 22, 1863, established the Bureau of Colored Troops to recruit and train freedmen and emancipated slaves to fight. Galloway began recruiting African Americans to enlist in the Union Army, but Galloway had four conditions that must be met before blacks in New Bern would enlist. They were to receive equal pay to that of the Massachusetts Regiments, the Army had to provide for their families who were mainly refugees, the Freedmen’s Bureau had to set up schools to teach their children to read and write, and the US government had to agree that if they were captured, they would have the rights as legitimate military prisoners of war. These conditions were ultimately agreed to, and within days of that, hundreds of recruits arrived. The new regiment was designated the First North Carolina Volunteers (later becoming the 35th US Colored Troops).
Galloway soon became an important and influential political leader. In May of 1864, he was part of a delegation of five black leaders who met with Abraham Lincoln advocating for suffrage for African Americans. He was one of 144 black leaders who attended the National Convention of Colored Citizens of the US, the most important gathering of African American leaders during the Civil War. By 1865 Galloway had organized a state chapter and five local chapters of the National Equal Rights League. He also helped to lead a freed people’s convention. In 1868, despite threats from the Ku Klux Klan, Galloway ran for the state senate in the first election in which Blacks were eligible to hold state office. He was one of three Black senators and seventeen Black representatives in the NC General Assembly. Galloway was able to vote for the 14th and 15th Amendments during his tenure.
Abraham Galloway was an advocate for African Americans, not only in New Bern, but throughout the north and south. As a testimony to his influence, six thousand people attended his funeral.