Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
While the grand little army of abolitionists was waging its untiring warfare for freedom, prior to the rebellion, no agency encouraged them like the heroism of fugitives. The pulse of the four millions of slaves and their desire for freedom, were better felt through “The Underground Railroad,” than through any other channel.
-William Still, 1878
In commemoration of Black history month we would like to discuss a little known historical figure. When most people think of the Underground Railroad they often think of Harriet Tubman (And rightly so), but there were also many, many others who if it were not for them the Underground Railroad would not have been as successful as it was. Some of these men and women were Isaac Hopper (An engraver), John Brown (A militant abolitionist), Thomas Garrett, Levi Coffin, John Rankin, John Parker, Bishop Richard Allen (Founder of AME Church) and William Still.
William Still (1821-1902) also known as the Father of the Underground Railroad, was one of the most famous conductors of the Underground Railroad. He was an abolitionist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a man of many accomplishments. He was a writer, historian, civil rights activist and businessman. William Still married Letitia George and they had four children who survived infancy. His children went on to occupy prominent roles in society becoming doctors, lawyers, journalists and teachers. Prior to the Civil War in 1847, William Still worked as a clerk and a custodian at the Vigilance Committee of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and later became the chairman. After the war, Still continued successful business ventures, purchased property, opened his own store selling stoves and later operated as a coal merchant and philanthropist.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of William Still is that he assisted and housed many fugitive slaves. One of the fugitives was his brother Peter, who had been left behind when Still’s mother had escaped over 40 years earlier. He helped his first runaway slave when he was just a boy, going on to help hundreds more throughout his life. But most amazingly, he maintained records of the people he aided and served so that he could help families unite. He kept meticulous records of those he assisted. However he destroyed many of the records to avoid those he helped, so that the records would not be used to prosecute them. However, he was still able to use his memory and records to write the first comprehensive account of the Underground Railroad and the experiences of many refugee slaves. He entitled the book “The Underground Railroad Records” (1872). William Still’s volume remains one of the most important texts to date as it relates to the study of black history and the Underground Railroad.
William Still- Classroom Resources
A man of God- Lesson Plan
Biography of William Still, Father of the Underground Five Free Underground Railroad Resources
Underground Railroad Digital Classroom Lesson Plan
William Still- Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The Underground Railroad Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters By William Still
The Underground Railroad: The William Still Story
Biography of William Still, Father of the Underground Railroad