Printer-friendly page

Galloway, Abraham

8 Feb.1837 - 1 Sept.1870

by Julie Franck, North Carolina State University, 2013

Engraved portrait of Abraham Galloway.  From William Still's <i>Underground Railroad</i>, p. 150-151, published 1872, by Porter & Coates, Philadelphia.  From the collections of the Government & Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina. Abraham Galloway, former slave, Union spy and military recruiter, militant abolitionist, advocate for Black suffrage, North Carolina Republican Party organizer, delegate to the Convention of 1868, and State Senator, was born on February 8, 1837 in Smithville, North Carolina – a small coastal port town known today as Southport in Brunswick County.  His mother, Hester Hankins, was a slave and his father, John Wesley Galloway, was a white boatman. 

At age ten or eleven he apprenticed to a brick mason; and soon after he became a master brick mason he moved with his owner, Marsden Milton Hankins, to Wilmington – North Carolina’s largest city and busiest seaport at the time.  In 1857 he found the opportunity for freedom: hiding in the cargo hold of a boat, he made his way out of Wilmington via Philadelphia, reaching Canada with the help of the Underground Railroad.  Shortly after settling in Canada West (now known as the province of Ontario), Galloway began working for the abolitionist movement, traveling throughout Canada and the United States.  In 1860, he traveled to Haiti to work for the recruitment effort to organize a John Brown type military invasion in the American South. 

In April 1861, Galloway returned from Haiti and began working as a spy for the Union under Major General Benjamin F. Butler in North Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where he was ultimately captured at Vicksburg.  As a spy working for Butler, he went on many missions such as one to Beaufort, NC where he scouted marine landings in advance of General Ambrose Burnside’s campaign against the North Carolina coast in the winters of 1861-62.

In 1862 while stationed with Wisconsin’s 4th Infantry, Galloway took on a mission that led to his capture in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Growing up in North Carolina, Galloway had many ties and relationships with slaves in the area which were helpful for him as a spy there, but when Butler was ordered to lead an attack in New Orleans in February of 1862, he knew having spies along would be helpful and brought Galloway who had never been to the Deep South. After reaching New Orleans, Louisiana on May 1st, Galloway traveled immediately to Vicksburg, Mississippi which if the Union could take would split the south in two. The Union could not overcome Vicksburg, and eventually they were forced to abandon the effort and leave behind the slaves they had used in the effort as well as Galloway who had been captured.  It is unclear whether he escaped or was released, but he ultimately made his way to New Bern where he appears to have taken on a final intelligence mission for Butler.

Galloway appears at this point to have left his role in military intelligence for the Union, moving toward a focus on recruitment of African American soldiers for the Union and political aspects of the abolition movement.  He also served as a guide for Robert Hamilton, a black journalist for the newspaper the Anglo-African, leading him through freedmen settlements.  In recruiting African Americans to enlist for the Union, his approval and influence in New Bern spread across the North with success: within several months 30 black regiments had joined the Union effort.  During the summer of 1863, Galloway spoke for many events, raised funds, recruited black soldiers, and kept his ties to other abolitionists. During this period he married Martha Ann Dixon in Beaufort, and in 1863 he was able to remove his mother, Hester Hankins from enslavement in Wilmington to freedom in Union-held New Bern.

While he was a spy, especially when he was in the Deep South, Galloway experienced many different perspectives of life as a slave in various places and the horrors and atrocities slaves went through. These insights may have given him a deeper desire to help slaves achieve freedom, abolish slavery, and gain equal rights under the law.  Among North Carolina’s freed people in the Union held New Bern area, he became a powerful grassroots organizer, a coalition builder, and an orator. In coastal North Carolina, Galloway appears to have had the most influence and authority.

On April 29th, 1864, Galloway led a group of black southern delegates to meet with President Abraham Lincoln to argue for African American citizenship with suffrage and political equality.  He was then chosen by freedmen in New Bern to serve as a North Carolina delegate for the National Convention of Colored Men of the United States that took place in Syracuse, New York.  The convention founded the National Equal Rights League.  

In the fall of 1865, Abraham and Martha Ann Galloway moved to Wilmington where their first child, John, was born on December 16th, 1865. Galloway began advocating strongly for the Republican Party and on October  17, 1867 he was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1868 in Raleigh. Later, he was nominated as a presidential elector and became North Carolina’s first black elector. He was elected to the state Senate in 1868 from New Hanover and Brunwick Counties as well as for a second term in 1870.

On September 1, 1870, Galloway died unexpectedly at 33 years old, having had his second son Abraham Jr. only six months earlier. About 6,000 people came to his funeral including all of the blacks of Wilmington and many whites .  

Update from N.C. Government & Heritage Library staff: 
On October 3, 2014, a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker dedicated to Abraham Galloway was installed at Third Street and Brunswick in Wilmington, North Carolina (New Hanover County).


Cecelski, David. 2012. The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway & the Slaves’ Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

"Abraham Galloway." North Carolina and the Civil War. North Carolina Museum of History. (accessed November 15, 2013).

"Benjamin Butler." Civil War Trust, America's Civil War Battlefields. Library of Congress. (accessed November 15, 2013). 

"The National Colored Convention in Session at Washington, D.C."  Toward Racial Equality: Harper's Weekly Reports on Black America, 1857-1874. (accessed November 15, 2013). 

Additional Resources: 

Still, William. The underground rail road : a record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hair-breadth escapes, and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom, as related by themselves and others or witnessed by the author : together with sketches of some of the largest stockholders and most liberal aiders and advisers of the road. Philadelphia : Porter & Coates. 1872. (accessed October 30, 2014).

Masur, Kate. "The African American Delegation to Abraham Lincoln: A Reappraisal." Civil War History 55:2 (June 2010). (accessed October 30, 2014).

"The Campaign for Citizenship Rights by African Americans, 1813-1865." The Making of African American Identity Vol. 1, 1500-1865. National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox. (accessed October 30, 2014).

Colored Conventions. Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center, University of Delware Library. (accessed October 30, 2014).

"Abraham Galloway." Marker D-114, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program. North Carolina Office of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. The underground rail road : a record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hair-breadth escapes, and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom, as related by themselves and others or witnessed by the author : together with sketches of some of the largest stockholders and most liberal aiders and advisers of the road. Philadelphia : Porter & Coates. 1872. 150-151.




what was it that they burned to smoke out escaping slaves


I am researching my Galloway ancestors from Bolivia ,Brunswick North Carolina. Nathaniel ,Cornelius Galloway 1700-1800's I am curious if Abraham is part of our Galloways. I found a family tree online and shows he is but would like more information.



I am sending your comment to our reference librarians who can assist you further. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


Would like to reach Davd Celeleski
To see if he would like to feature his book at the Harper Library in Southport NC with a talk

Please let me know

John F Butler


On page 11 of A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot by LeRae Sikes Umfleet it states that Galloway lead a black militia that fought the KKK in Wilmington. This may be included in some of the noted books, writings, but just in case it's not - do you know if there is other verification/evidence of the statement?


Dear Elise,

I have a followup to your question about the source of information on Abraham Galloway from LeRae Umfleet’s book. 

I have contacted LeRae Umfleet and she told me that she referenced a chapter by David S. Cecelski, “Abraham Galloway: Wilmington’s Lost Prophet and the Rise of Black Radicalism in the American South,” in David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson, eds., Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998)

David Cecelski has also since published a new and more complete work on the life of Abraham Galloway,

Cecelski, David S. 2012. The fire of freedom: Abraham Galloway & the slaves' Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

You may also be interested in the references and additional resources mentioned in the NCpedia that you'll find above these comments in the "References" section.

I hope this helps.  Please let us know if we can help with any additional information.

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


Dear Elise,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your question.

By email I am forwarding your question directly to LeRae Umfleet. She will be the best person to answer this question.

Please let us know if we can help with anything else.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


Please read The Wilmington Journal for November 27, 2014---there is an article on the front page about Mr. Abraham Galloway written by me------James Hankins


Dear James, 

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share this with us and NCpedia's users.

I'm including the link to your articler here for others who visit this entry:  

Hankins, James. "The Friends of Abraham Galloway." Wilmington Journal (Wilminton, NC), November 27, 2014.

Thank you very much and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at