William Still

 

Many call William Still the father of the Underground Railroad.

As an abolitionist leader, William Still helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom. He was also one of the most successful Black businessmen in the history of the City of Philadelphia.

Born on October 7, 1821, in Burlington County, New Jersey, he was the youngest of eighteen children of Levin and Charity Still. Both of his parents were born into slavery. His father bought his freedom and his mother escaped slavery in Maryland. William Still grew up listening to many stories about slavery and its horrors.

In 1844, he moved to Philadelphia and in 1847 married Letitia George. That year, he was hired as clerk for the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery but his actual work was on the “underground railroad”, helping escaped slaves from the South find their way to freedom in Canada. He traveled to Canada himself to visit ex-slave communities, and drew on their success to argue for emancipation in America. He became an active agent on the Underground Railroad, assisting fugitive Africans who came to Philadelphia.

William Still is best known for his self-published book The Underground Railroad (1872) where he documented the stories of former slaves who gained their freedom. Still’s The Underground Railroad is the only first person account of Black activities on the Underground Railroad written and self-published by an African American.

After a forty year search, he located his brother, Peter Still, and helped him to escape to freedom. After finding his brother, he kept thorough records about the Underground Railroad. William Still was very courageous and risked his own freedom assisting many slaves.

William Still also ran a successful stove and coal business in Philadelphia, established an orphanage for the children of African-American Civil War veterans, and was an original stockholder of The Nation magazine.