Henry Highland Garnet

Henry Highland Garnet was active in the capital area from 1839 to 1846. In that time he pastored the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy and was active in the underground railroad in Rensselaer County.

Born in 1815, Garnet was led out of slavery in Maryland by his father (George Garnet) in 1824 along with ten other family members. He attended the African Free School, and the Phoenix High School for Colored Youth, in New York City between 1826 and 1833. In 1835 he and several other black youth attended the Noyes Academy in New Hampshire. An anti-integrationist mob drove them out of the school.

He graduated from the Onieda Institute in 1839 and began an eight year residence in Troy, New York. He pastored the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church and edited two short lived publications. One was the Clarion, and the other was the National Watchman. He also founded a school for black children in Geneva, New York.

Garnet gained national prominence in delivering an address to the 1843 Black convention in Buffalo where his speech for black freedom was generally perceived as a call for slave revolt.

In 1850 Garnet went to Britain for two years, then accepting an appointment from the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, served as a missionary in Jamaica where he worked from 1853-55. In 1856 an illness forced his return to the United States. He accepted a pastorate at New York City’s Shiloh Presbyterian Church. In the 1850’s he helped found the African Civilization Society, an organization that encouraged black missionary work and entrepreneurship in Africa.

During the Civil War, Garnet organized black troops for the North and afterwards became the first African-American to preach a sermon in the House of Representatives in 1865. In the remainder of his life he was appointed president of Avery College in Pennsylvania, and was U. S. minister to Liberia in 1881. He died in 1882.

Although I have seen many short pieces on Garnet and his life, the best short piece I have seen was included in a footnote to one of the selections in The Black Abolotionist Papaers Volume 3, edited by C. Peter Ripley, University of North Carolina Press, 1981.

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