Still, William

Life Span
Full name
William Still
Place of Birth
Birth Date Certainty
Death Date Certainty
Sectional choice
Free State
No. of Siblings
No. of Spouses
No. of Children
Levin Still (father, formerly Levin Steel), Charity Still (mother, changed name from Cidney to Charity), Peter Still (brother), Letitia Still (wife, formerly Letitia George), Caroline Still (daughter), William Still (son), Frances Still (son), Latitia Still (daughter)
Writer or Artist
Relation to Slavery
Free black
Household Size in 1860
Children in 1860
Occupation in 1860
Residence in 1860
Wealth in 1860
Marital status in 1860

William Still (American National Biography)

Still's book, The Underground Railroad (1872), was unique. The only work on that subject written by an African American, it was also the only day-by-day record of the workings of a vigilance committee. While he gave credit to "the grand little army of abolitionists," he put the spotlight on the fugitives themselves, saying "the race had no more eloquent advocates than its own self-emancipated champions." Besides recording their courageous deeds, Still hoped that the book would demonstrate the intellectual ability of his race. Along with the records of slave escapes he included excerpts from newspapers, legal documents, correspondence of abolitionists and former slaves, and some biographical sketches. He published the book himself and sent out agents to sell it. The book went into three editions and was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.

Although he had not suffered personally under slavery, Still faced discrimination throughout his life and was determined to work for improved race relations. His concern about civil rights in the North led him in 1859 to write a letter to the press, which started a campaign to end racial discrimination on Philadelphia streetcars, where African Americans were permitted only on the unsheltered platforms. Eight years later the campaign met success when the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a law making such discrimination illegal. In 1861 he helped organize and finance the Pennsylvania Civil, Social, and Statistical Association to collect data about the freed slaves and to press for universal suffrage.
Larry Gara, "Still, William," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

William Still (Horton, 2004)

Although the legend of the Underground Railroad is filled with unsubstantiated folklore about stations where fugitives were sheltered and conductors who risked life and property to usher runaways to safety, Still’s role as one of the most effective workers for freedom is indisputable. From the offices of the abolition society and from his home at 832 South Street, Still coordinated the activities that made Philadelphia one of the nation’s strongholds of abolition. He was also one of the Underground Railroad’s most significant historians, maintaining meticulous records of the 649 fugitives who were sheltered in the city prior to the Civil War and the end of slavery. These records contained dates, names, and details of fugitives and those who assisted them, as well as routes and locations of safe houses throughout the East. They also provided information on abolition agents and collaborators in the slave South. Had these records fallen into the wrong hands, they would have endangered many lives and might well have caused the destruction of the movement. Acutely aware of their importance, Still was always careful to hide these documents. At one point he concealed them in a building in an old cemetery and did not unearth them until well after the Civil War, when slavery had been abolished. In 1872 he published his records, along with the personal stories and the correspondence of hundreds of runaways, in The Underground Railroad, a collection that modern historians of slavery and antislavery have found invaluable.
James Oliver Horton, "A Crusade for Freedom: William Still and the Real Underground Railroad," in Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory, ed. David W. Blight (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2004), 178-179.

William Still (Bordewich, 2006)

Still was born free in 1821, near Medford, in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, the youngest of eighteen children. His father, Levin, had purchased his freedom and moved north from Maryland in 1807. His mother, charity, later escaped to join him there, leaving behind their two oldest, enslaved sons. Largely self-taught, William moved to Philadelphia in 1844, where he worked at various menial jobs until, in 1847, he was hired as a clerk and a janitor by the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, at a salary of three dollars and seventy-five cents per week. When the Vigilance Committee was reorganized after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, Still was named its chairman. He coordinated escapes with underground activists as least as far away as Norfolk, Virginia and Washington, D.C., where the frugal Yankee lawyer Jacob Bigelow had rebuilt a clandestine network after William Chaplin’s arrest. Still’s Philadelphia office also served variously as a reception center, a kind of social services agency for needy fugitives, and a clearinghouse for information. He was usually the first person fugitives encountered when they arrived from underground stations in the Pennsylvania hinterland, from the Delaware line, or by sea from the South. Still had greeted William and Ellen Craft after their epic journey from Georgia, and he was on hand to help Henry “Box” Brown out of his packing crate. It was also Still who sent word to William Parker and his men at Christiana that the Maryland slave owner Edward Gorsuch and his party were on their trail.
Fergus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement (New York: Amistad, 2006), 355-356.

William Still (New York Times)


Negro Known as “Father of the Underground Railroad” – Once a Slave, He Died Very Wealthy.

Philadelphia, July 14. – William Still, who was known throughout the country as “Father of the Underground Railroad” and one of the best educated members of the negro race, died at his home here today.

Mr. Still was about eighty years old. Though born a slave, he worked his own freedom, secured that of his mother by a most romantic escape from a slave dealer, educated himself by his own efforts, and leaves a fortune estimated at between $750,000 and $1,000,000.

He was for many years Secretary of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, and was active in the Freedmen’s Aid Union. He was a Trustee of Storer College, at Harper’s Ferry, and was active in the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Society for Improving the Condition of the African Race. He leaves a widow, two daughters, and a son.

"William Still Dead," New York Times, July 15, 1902, p. 2: 6.

William Still (Appleton’s)

STILL, William, philanthropist, b. in Shamony, Burlington co., N. J., 7 Oct., 1821. He is of African descent, and was brought up on a farm. Coming to Philadelphia in 1844, he obtained a clerkship in 1847 in the office of the Pennsylvania Anti-slavery society. He was chairman and corresponding secretary of the Philadelphia branch of the “underground railroad” in 1851-'61, and busied himself in writing out the narratives of fugitive slaves. His writings constitute the only full account of the organization with which he was connected. Mr. Still sheltered the wife, daughter, and sons of John Brown while he was awaiting execution in Charlestown, Va. During the civil war he was commissioned post-sutler at Camp William Penn for colored troops, and was a member of the Freedmen's aid union and commission. He is vice-president and chairman of the board of managers of the Home for aged and infirm colored persons, a member of the board of trustees of the Soldiers' and sailors' orphans' home, and of other charitable institutions. In 1885 he was sent by the presbytery of Philadelphia as a commissioner to the general assembly at Cincinnati. He was one of the original stockholders of “The Nation,” and a member of the Board of trade of Philadelphia. His writings include “The Underground Rail-Road” (Philadelphia, 1878) ; “Voting and Laboring” ; and “Struggle for the Rights of the Colored People of Philadelphia.”
James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, eds., “Still, William,” Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888), 5: 689.

William Still (National Cyclopaedia)

STILL, William, philanthropist and historian of the “Underground Railroad” was born at Shumway, Burlington Co.., N 1, Oct 7, 1821 His father had been a slave on the eastern shore of Maryland, who bought his freedom about 1815 and removed to New Jersey, where he acquired property and became a useful citizen.  When William was but a youth he read the "Colored American," and early imbibed the anti-slavery spirit.  He removed to Philadelphia in 1844, and soon afterward was appointed to a clerkship in the Pennsylvania Anti- Slavery Society.  He filled this position for fourteen years.  During this time he took notes of the remarkable and exciting experiences of many fugitive slaves.  These thrilling stories he carefully preserved and in 1878 published them in a volume of nearly 800 pages.  It gives an authentic account of the operations of the Underground Railroad, an organization for the protection of fugitive slaves, and to aid them in their escape northward.  Mr. Still sheltered the wife, daughter and sons of John Brown while he was awaiting execution at Charlestown, Va., in 1859. During the civil war he was post sutler at Camp William Penn near Philadelphia.  He was one of the original stockholders of the "Nation," of New York, was a member of the Freedmen's Aid Union and Commission, helped to organize the Orphans' Home for children of colored soldiers and sailors; is a trustee of Storer College at Harper's Ferry and of the Home for Destitute Colored Children; president of the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons, and a member of the Board of Trade of Philadelphia, where he has prospered as a merchant. He has also published “Voting and Laboring" and "Rights of Colored People in City Passenger Cars."
“Still, William,” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: James T. White & Company, 1895), 2: 313-314.
Chicago Style Entry Link
Gara, Larry. "William Still and the Underground Railroad." Pennsylvania History 28, no. 1 (1961): 33-44.
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Hall, Stephen G. "To Render the Private Public: William Still and the Selling of the Underground Rail Road." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 127, no. 1 (2003): 35-55.
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Still, William. The Underground Rail Road. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872.
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Bentley, Judith. Dear Friend: Thomas Garrett & William Still, Collaborators on the Underground Railroad. New York: Cobblehill Books, 1997. view record
Bracey, John H., August Meier, and Elliott M. Rudwick. Blacks in the Abolitionist Movement. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1971. view record
Horton, James Oliver. “A Crusade for Freedom: William Still and the Real Underground Railroad.” In Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory, edited by David W. Blight, 174-193. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2004. view record
Horton, James Oliver. "Flight to Freedom: One Family and the Story of the Underground Railroad." Magazine of History 15, no. 4 (2001): 42-45. view record
Kashatus, William C. "Two Stationmasters on the Underground Railroad: A Tale of Black and White." Pennsylvania Heritage 27, no. 4 (2001): 4-11. view record
How to Cite This Page: "Still, William," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,