A few years after the death of his mother, his father was removed, and Thomas was left an orphan before he had attained his sixth year. After this affecting event he was taken into the family of Isaac Bartram, who had married his eldest sister. Here he remained for several years, acquiring the common rudiments of education, and at a suitable age was sent to Westtown school; after remaining there for a little more than a year, he met with an accident, which rendered it necessary for him to return home; and the effects of which prevented him from proceeding with his education. He fell from the top of a high flight of steps to the ground, and received an injury of the head, followed by convulsions, which continued at intervals for a considerable time, and rendered him incapable of any effort of mind or body.
He was, during childhood, remarkably fond of reading, and was distinguished among his friends and associates for uncommon perseverance in accomplishing anything he undertook, a trait which peculiarly marked him through life; his disposition is said to have been unusually amiable and docile, so as to endear him very strongly to his relatives and friends.
After his removal from Westtown, he was again taken into the family of his brother-in-law, and remained under the care of his sister, who was very much attached to him, until he was placed as an apprentice to the hardware business. While here, he was entirely relieved of the affliction caused by the fall, and was restored to sound health. About the age of twenty-one, he entered upon the pursuits of the business he had selected.
The exact time at which his attention was turned to the subject of slavery cannot be ascertained, but it is probable that a testimony against it was among his earliest impressions as a member of the religious Society of Friends. He joined the “Pennsylvania Society for the Promoting the Abolition of Slavery,” etc., in 1817, and the ardent interest which he took in its objects, was evinced on many occasions within the recollection of many now living. He was for many years an active member of its Board of Education, and took a prominent part in extending the benefits of learning to colored children and youth.
The career of Thomas Shipley, as it was connected with the interests of the colored community, abounds in incidents which have rarely occurred in the life of any individual. Being universally regarded as their adviser and protector, he was constantly solicited for his advice on questions touching their welfare. This led him to investigate the laws relating to this class of persons, in all their extended ramifications. The knowledge he thus acquired, together with his practical acquaintance with the business and decisions of our courts, rendered his opinion peculiarly serviceable on all matters affecting their rights. Never did a merchant study more closely the varied relations of business, and their influence on his interests, than did Thomas Shipley all those questions which concerned the well-being of those for whom he was so warmly interested. He had volunteered his services as their advocate, and they could not have been more faithfully served had they poured out the wealth of Croesus at the feet of the most learned counsel.