Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Still (b. 1821 - d. 1902)
MSA SC 5496-15224
Accomplice to slave fight, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


    The youngest child of ex-slaves Levin and Sidney Still, William was born in Burlington County, New Jersey, in 1821.  After his marriage to Letitia George in 1847, William became employed by the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery.  From the Philadelphia headquarters of this institution, Still was able to aid and assist at least 649 runaway slaves, housing and feeding them as their journeys halted in Philadelphia, before continuing northward to Canada.  Among the many slaves and ex-slaves encountered at the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery was Still's own brother, Peter, who had been left behind when his mother, Sidney, fled slavery from the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the first decade of the 19th century - certainly a momentous and joyful occasion.1 Apparently, the reunion with Peter sparked William's desire to keep detailed records of the fugitive slaves he encountered, a factor which greatly aided the publication of his most famous work, The Underground Rail Roadin 1872.2

    After the Fugitive Slave Act legislation was passed in 1850, the abolitionists of Philadelphia formed a vigilance committee to protect fugitive slaves passing through the Pennsylvania city, and William Still was named chairman.  From 1850 until 1861, when William resigned his position with the vigilance committee, he not only aided the 649 slaves discussed above in attaining their final goal of freedom, but also helped accomplices to John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid, and was deeply involved in advancing civil rights for free blacks in the North.  In fact, Still began a campaign to end the segregation of Philadelphia's public transportation in 1859 - a course of action that was eventually met with success in 1867.  To make a record of the campaign and its overall goals, Still produced A Brief Narrative of the Struggle for the Rights of the Colored People of Philadelphia in the City Railway Cars, also written in 1867.3

1.   The account of William Still's reunion with his brother, Peter, as well as the subsequent (and unsuccessful) plot to free Peter's wife and children from slavery, is found in William Still, Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, etc. (Philadelphia, PA: Porter and Coates Publishers, 1872,) pp. 23 - 38.
2.   William Still Underground Railroad Foundation, Inc., "About William Still," August 6, 2004.
3.   Ibid.

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