Rev. Dr. Thomas Kennard was born a slave around 1820 in Delaware and lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.1 He was emancipated by his owner although the conditions of his freedom are unclear. As a freeman, Rev. Dr. Kennard took advantage of every opportunity, eventually becoming a successful entrepreneur and clergyman. He served as a delegate from Pennsylvania in the 1855 National Colored Convention. Kennard was a practicing dentist; Martin Delaney describes him as a devoted and innovative surgeon—“one of the best workmen in the manufacture of artificial teeth and gums.”2

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. “Dr. Thomas Kennard, Prominent in the Canadian work with Bishop Nazrey. Went to England and collected money with which to extend the work.” New York Public Library Digital Collections.

He represents the entrepreneurial success that the convention sought to establish among members of the Black community. Kennard also served under Bishop Nazrey of the British Methodist Episcopal Church and was sponsored by John Buchanan of the American University of Philadelphia. He worked as a missionary in Toronto, Canada, and also traveled to England to raise funds “for the expansion of the missionary field in Canada.”3 Additionally, Kennard served as a reference to a member of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee.4

While the minutes of the 1855 National Colored Convention provide the earliest reference to Thomas Kennard, his actions directly after the convention indicate a commitment to education and business. In accordance with the desire of the convention to provide occupational education, Kennard traveled to England during his appointment to the pastorate of the BME church of London in 1857.5 It is likely that he was granted British citizenship at that time. After spending years in Canada and Great Britain, Rev. Dr. Kennard went back to Philadelphia in the early 1860s. There he continued to be active in the Black community, and in 1869 he served as an agent of the American University of Philadelphia and was charged with the task of recruiting Black men to study medicine.6 This meant that Kennard had to travel around the country, offering free education to those willing to enroll.

Even though he was a freeman and a British citizen, Rev. Kennard was still treated like a fugitive in Delaware. In 1864, Kennard visited his birthplace. While at Camden, Delaware, he was fined fifty dollars, which he did not have; he was thereafter sold and bought by his former owner’s brother, who then helped him leave the state.7 Records show that his wife, Mary Kennard, was living in Delaware in 1870 and 1880.8 The purpose of his visit must have been to see his wife after a long absence. Both The Liberator and The Christian Recorder condemned the unfortunate incident and the state of Delaware.

Newspaper clip from 1864

“A COLORED MINISTER FINED, SOLD AND BOUGHT IN THE STATE OF DELAWARE LAST WEEK.” The Christian Recorder, 25 Jun. 1864. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.

During the Civil War, Rev. Kennard served as a BME minister in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. There he worked along with Boston antislavery activist Samuel Gridley Howe. Howe asked Rev. Kennard which country he is loyal to. Rev. Kennard replied, “because we are between the hawk and the eagle, and God only knows which will devour us. Certainly, we are loyal, but we are more loyal to freedom than to any other parties. I am more loyal to human freedom than I am to Britain or the United States.”9 Rev. Kennard died on March 21, 1876 in Philadelphia; he is buried in Lebanon Cemetery.10


Submitted by Daniel Goebel, Taught by Gabrielle Foreman, University of Delaware Spring 2013

Edited and Revised by Samantha de Vera, University of Delaware.


  1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  2. Martin Robison Delaney. The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States. Link.
  3. Lewellyn Longfellow Berry. A Century of Missions of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1840-1940. (New York: Gutenberg Printing, 1942), 35. Link.
  4. William Still. The Underground Railroad. Link.
  5. “Rev . Thomas Kinnard has been appointed by the British Metho.” Provincial Freeman, 12 Sept. 1857. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.
  6. “Rev. Thomas Kinnard is appointed agent of the American Univ.” The Christian Recorder, 11 Sept. 1869. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.
  7. “Shame on Delaware.” The Liberator, 5 Aug. 1864. From Accessible Archives © 2016 Accessible Archives Inc.
  8. 1870 and 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  9. Bryan Prince. My Brother’s Keeper: African Canadians and the American Civil War. (Toronto: Dundurn, 2015), 208.
  10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915.