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"Our claims are on America; it is the land that gave us birth; it is the land of our nativity, we know no other country, it is a land in which our fathers have suffered and toiled; they have watered it with their tears, and fanned it with sighs."

― Thomas L. Jennings

About Thomas L. Jennings

Thomas L. Jennings was the first African American granted a patent by the United States, but he was also a businessman, an ardent abolitionist and a civil rights leader.

He was a founding member of many early philanthropic rights organizations such as the Wilberforce Society, the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, the Phoenix Society, the New York Vigilance Committee and the Legal Rights Association.

A native New Yorker, Jennings was among the “one thousand citizens of color” who volunteered to dig trenches to fortify New York City during the War of 1812. Well respected and highly regarded, he signed Certificates of Freedom for other black men vouching for their status as free Americans. A tailor and clothier by trade, he apprenticed with one of Manhattan’s “most celebrated tailors” before opening his own shop on Williams Street at age 19. During this time, Jennings began experimenting with chemicals to remove stains from his customer’s expensive clothing.