The Underground Railroad

William Still was the youngest of 18 children born to former slaves. His father had bought his freedom from his owner. His mother was an escaped slave. All the children were considered slaves, under federal law since their mother was an escapee. However, the children residing in New Jersey were considered free. Most of the children went on to lead exemplary lives.

William moved to Philadelphia where he worked for the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. William became the leader of the Vigilance Committee which provided aid to escaped slaves. The home where William and his wife lived became a stop on the Underground Railway station for escaped slaves.

Over time, William helped approximately 800 slaves escape to freedom. This earned him the title of the Father of the Underground Railroad. He kept careful record of those he helped in order to facilitate the reconnection of families. In one case, he became reconnected with his own brother.

Still, in addition to his work with the Underground Railroad, also became an entrepreneur. He brokered coal, he had real estate, and invested in the stock market. He was also active in a number of associations supporting African Americans after the Civil War. One of those was the first YMCA for African Americans. As William’s financial resources grew, he became an important contributor to organizations in Philadelphia with a social justice mission.

Today few people know of the vital role that William Still provided in freedom for escaped slaves or the role in lifting the lives for freed slaves after the Civil War. Others in the Underground Railroad are better known. Often hidden heroes are less known than others because they find their calling to be one of service, and they don’t care to be publicly recognized. In William’s case, public recognition for his role in the Underground Railroad would have made him less effective in freeing slaves.

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“You may not know where the track ends but persevere and you shall see.” – Unknown

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