The Wilmington Underground Railroad network included residents with vastly different backgrounds, living in all neighborhoods of the city. The Black agents clustered between the city core and west to Quaker Hill, as well as the East Side of the city.
Born of a West Indian father and an Irish or English mother in about 1800, Joseph Walker made his living as a laborer. He is the only Wilmington Black agent mentioned in the records of Professor Wilbur Siebert, the historian who interviewed Harriet Tubman and other participants of the Underground Railroad in the 1890s. Walker was a trusted associate of Thomas Garrett in Underground Railroad work, acting as a conductor between Wilmington and Pennsylvania.
In his youth, Joseph G. Walker participated in a Wilmington and environs club of sorts, attended by “colored” men who organized memorial dinners on the anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indies (August 1, 1834). The memorials featured local and regional speakers, a sumptuous meal and followed “strict temperance principles.” Members of the gathering were leaders of the Black community, including Daniel B. Anderson (of the “Andersonville” community in Southwest Wilmington) and Abraham D. Shadd (then of West Chester, PA), abolitionist, Underground Railroad agent and father of Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Two detailed and eloquent articles in The Colored American newspaper in August of 1839 and 1840 document these celebrations.
Walker once lived on Tatnall Street, between 8th and 9th Streets, near fellow operative Henry A. Craigg, Jr.and family, and other Black householders. Walker, wife Rebecca and four sons also lived in several locations on the East Side as did other Black operatives. Walker’s homes are no longer standing.
- William J. Switala, The Underground Railroad in Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004), 54-55.
- James A. McGowan, Stationmaster of the Underground Railroad, The Life and Letters of Thomas Garrett (Moylan, PA: Whimsie Press, 1977),15, 127.