The Underground Railroad & William Still
Underground Railroad Timelines
- AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES CENTER: http://aasc.oupexplore.com/undergroundrailroad/#!/timeline
- NATIONAL PARK SERVICE (WOMEN’S RIGHTS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, SENECA FALLS, NY): https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/significant-events-of-the-underground-railroad.htm
- SOFTSCHOOLS WEBSITE (designed for K-12 students and their educators): http://www.softschools.com/timelines/underground_railroad_timeline/451/
- PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/timeline/1619.html
- WHISPERS OF ANGELS (website): http://www.whispersofangels.com/index.html
- THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (PBS): http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/shows/list/underground-railroad/home/
- GENERAL INFORMATION (History Net): http://www.historynet.com/underground-railroad
- GENERAL INFORMATION (Scholastic): http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/underground_railroad/index.htm
- GENERAL INFORMATION (The History Channel): http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/underground-railroad
- HARRIET TUBMAN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman
- WILLIAM STILL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Still
- STORIES OF FREEDOM (PBS): http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/shows/list/underground-railroad/stories-freedom/
- JOHN BROWN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown_%28abolitionist%29
- FREDERICK DOUGLASS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass
- THOMAS GARRETT: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Garrett
- WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lloyd_Garrison
- LEVI COFFIN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levi_Coffin
- CANADA AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: http://blackhistorycanada.ca/events.php?themeid=21&id=6
- CANADIAN ABOLITIONIST SITES: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2013/09/19/underground-railroad-canada/2833115/
NOT ALL SLAVE-HOLDING STATES JOINED THE CONFEDERACY:
Some Key Terms
- Agent — Coordinator, who plotted courses of escape and made contacts.
- Baggage — Fugitive slaves carried by Underground Railroad workers.
- Bundles of wood — Fugitives that were expected.
- Canaan — Canada.
- Conductor — Person who directly transported slaves.
- Drinking Gourd — Big Dipper and the North Star.
- Flying bondsmen — The number of escaping slaves.
- Forwarding — Taking slaves from station to station.
- Freedom train — The Underground Railroad.
- French leave — Secret departure.
- Heaven — Canada, freedom.
- Jumping off place — Place of shelter for fugitives.
- Load of potatoes — Escaping slaves hidden under farm produce in a wagon.
- Operator — Person who helped freedom seekers as a conductor or agent.
- Parcel — Fugitives that were expected.
- Patter roller — Bounty hunter hired to capture slaves.
- Preachers — Leaders of and spokespersons for the Underground Railroad.
- Promised Land — Canada.
- River Jordan — Ohio River.
- Shepherds — People who encouraged slaves to escape and escorted them.
- Station — Place of safety and temporary refuge, a safe house.
- Station master — Keeper or owner of a safe house.
- Stockholder — Someone who gave money, clothing or food to the Underground Railroad
Some Key Phrases
- The wind blows from the South today — A warning that slave bounty hunters were nearby.
- A friend with friends — A password used to signal arrival of fugitives with an Underground Railroad conductor.
- A friend of a friend sent me — A password used by fugitives traveling alone to indicate they were sent by the Underground Railroad network.
- The river bank makes a mighty good road — A reminder that tracking dogs could not follow the scent of fugitives through the water.
- The dead trees will show you the way — A reminder that moss grows on the north side of dead trees, so if the North Star were not visible, they would know which way to walk.
The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1838. Founders included James Mott, Lucretia Mott, Robert Purvis, and John C. Bowers. At the time, Pennsylvania was an openly racist state, withdrawing blacks' voting rights in 1838. In August 1850, William Still while working as a clerk for the Society, was assisting a fugitive slave calling himself "Peter Freedman". As the escapee's story was similar to many he had heard before, it took a while for Still to realize that Freedman was his long-lost brother. It was this incident that galvanized Still's resolve and compelled him to document his work with the Underground Railroad, later published in 1872 as The Underground Rail Road Records. In 1855, while working for the Society, Passmore Williamson and William Still helped Jane Johnson escape slavery while in Philadelphia with her master, a well-known congressman, John Hill Wheeler. As one of the first challenges to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 the case created a scandal, with Williamson imprisoned for several months, charged with riot, forcible abduction, and assault. The judge in the case rejected an affidavit from Johnson affirming that there had been no abduction as "immaterial". Williamson eventually turned his cell into a virtual abolitionist media center, drawing visits from luminaries like Frederick Douglass. Robert Purvis, African American son of a wealthy white cotton broker, was a leading member during the life of the organization. The National Enquirer was an abolitionist newspaper founded by Quaker Benjamin Lundy in 1836. It was renamed the Pennsylvania Freeman after John Greenleaf Whittier took over as editor in 1838. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Anti-Slavery_Society Quakers (or Friends, as they refer to themselves) are members of a family of religious movements collectively known as the Religious Society of Friends. The central unifying doctrine of these movements is the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine derived from a verse in the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:9. Many Friends view themselves as members of a Christian denomination. They include those with evangelical, holiness, liberal, and traditional conservative Quaker understandings of Christianity. Unlike many other groups that emerged within Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has actively tried to avoid creeds and hierarchical structures. As of 2007 there were approximately 359,000 adult members of Quaker meetings in the world. Today, slightly less than half of Friends worldwide practice programmed worship—that is, worship with singing and a prepared message from the Bible, often coordinated by a pastor. Around 11% of Friends practice waiting worship (also known as unprogrammed worship)—that is worship where the order of service is not planned in advance, which is predominantly silent, and which may include unprepared vocal ministry from anyone present, so long as it is credible to those assembled that the speaker is moved to speak by God. Some meetings of both styles have Recorded Ministers in their meetings—these are Friends who have been recognised for their gift of vocal ministry. OVERVIEW: https://quaker.org/ QUAKERS AND SLAVERY: https://web.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/speccoll/quakersandslavery/commentary/organizations/ Henry "Box" Brown (c.1816–after 1889) was a 19th-century Virginia slave who escaped to freedom at age 33 by arranging to have himself mailed in a wooden crate in 1849 to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania abolitionists. He left behind his enslaved wife and children. For a short time Brown became a noted abolitionist speaker in the northeast United States. He lost the support of the abolitionist community, notably Frederick Douglass, who wished Brown had kept quiet about the details of his escape so that others could have used similar means. As a public figure and fugitive slave, Brown felt endangered by passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which increased pressure to capture escaped slaves. He moved to England and lived there for 25 years, touring with an anti-slavery panorama and becoming a mesmerist and showman. Mostly forgotten in the United States, he married an English woman and had a second family with her. He returned to the US with them in 1875 and continued to earn a living as an entertainer. https://www.pbs.org/black-culture/shows/list/underground-railroad/stories-freedom/henry-box-brown/
Peter Still (Freedman) and Seth Concklin: Still was born a slave to parents Sidney and Levin on a plantation owned by Saunders Griffin on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Peter and his eldest brother Levin Jr. were sold by their owner at ages eight and six respectively, shortly after their mother had fled for a second time. After many years in Kentucky, the brothers were eventually sold to various slave-owning families in Florence and Tuscumbia, Alabama. It was there that Peter met and married Lavinia (Vina) Sisson, a household slave from a nearby plantation, on June 25, 1826. Peter's brother Levin died in 1831, leaving Peter without a living tie to his family. Through a verbal arrangement with his last owners, Joseph and Isaac Friedman, Peter secured his manumission for $500 in April 1850. Shortly thereafter, Peter arrived in Philadelphia, where he serendipitously met his youngest brother William Still, then serving as a clerk at the Anti-Slavery Office. Through his own efforts, and those of his family, friends, and supporters, Peter was eventually reunited with his wife Vina and children Peter, Levin, and Catharine, in 1854. They resided in Burlington County, New Jersey until Peter died of pneumonia in 1868. His brother James became a practicing doctor in southern New Jersey and was known as "The Black Doctor of the Pines." James also published a memoir, Early Recollections and Life of Dr. James Still, printed by J.B. Lippincott & Co. in 1877. ------------------------------- The reunion of Peter with his parents and siblings garnered quite a bit of media attention. That coverage touched the heart of a white abolitionist named Seth Concklin, who soon agreed to the mission-impossible venture of traveling into the Deep South and rescuing Peter’s family.The things Concklin did during that mission bordered on the superhuman. In seven short days, many of them filled with rain and cold, he rowed his party of four runaways upstream for nearly 120 miles along the Ohio and Wabash rivers. But the mission ended in failure. Concklin was arrested in Indiana. Along with Peter’s wife and children, he was handed over to a slave owner named Bernard McKiernon for transport back to Alabama. Concklin never made it to an Alabama courtroom to face charges. He drowned in the Ohio River. McKiernon said that happened during a fight that broke out when Concklin tried to escape. Some abolitionists were skeptical about that. They believed that McKiernon had committed murder. http://www.undergroundrailroadconductor.com/Still-Concklin.htm
The Fugitive Slave Law or Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers. This was one of the most controversial elements of the 1850 compromise and heightened Northern fears of a "slave power conspiracy". It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law. Abolitionists nicknamed it the "Bloodhound Law" for the dogs that were used to track down runaway slaves. OVERVIEW: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-acts
Jane Johnson (c. 1814-1827 – August 2, 1872) was an African-American slave who gained freedom on July 18, 1855 with her two young sons while in Philadelphia with her master and his family. She was aided by William Still and Passmore Williamson, abolitionists of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and its Vigilance Committee. This resulted in precedent-setting legal cases in 19th-century Pennsylvania, as a federal judge applied the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in a controversial way. He sentenced abolitionist Passmore Williamson to 90 days for contempt of court for failing to produce Johnson and her sons under a writ of habeas corpus, or tell their location. The jailing attracted even wider publicity, and widespread discussion of issues of state and federal laws related to slavery. Pennsylvania had long been a free state and held that slaveholders gave up their property right in slaves if they brought them voluntarily to the state. Johnson returned to Philadelphia from New York in August 1855 and testified in the trial of William Still and five dockworkers, charged by her master John Hill Wheeler with assault. They had aided her escape. She testified at length about having planned to gain freedom in the North, and said she chose of her own free will to leave with Still, and would never go back to slavery. She helped win acquittal for Still and three men, and reduced sentences for two others. State and local officials protected her after testimony, and she and her sons soon moved to Boston, where they settled. She married again there. Her son Isaiah Johnson served in the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Johnson_(slave)
Anna Maria Weems also Ann Maria Weems (ca. 1840 – after 1863) was an American woman known for escaping slavery by disguising herself as a male carriage driver and escaping to Canada, where her family was settled with other slave fugitives. She and her younger sister were separated from her family at the age of seven, and her mother and brothers were sold in Alabama. Within a few months, her mother and two of her youngest brothers were manumitted and settled with their father in Washington, D.C. Then freedom for her sister, Catherine, was negotiated. The Weems had attained the money to pay ransoms through abolitionists in England and the United States. Unable to purchase Anna Maria Weems' freedom, she ran away at the age of 15. She left her slaveholder in Rockville, Maryland and traveled through Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn, New York before arriving in Dresden, Ontario. The journey-- made more treacherous due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850--occurred over two months, during which she spent much time hiding and dressed as a young man. http://herstory.wikia.com/wiki/Ann_Maria_Weems
Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African-American social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave. Douglass wrote several autobiographies. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller and influential in supporting abolition, as did the second, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). After the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. First published in 1881 and revised in 1892, three years before his death, it covered events through and after the Civil War. Douglass also actively supported women's suffrage, and held several public offices. Without his approval, Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull on the impracticable, small, but far foreseeing Equal Rights Party ticket. A firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, Douglass famously said, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong." https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/frederick-douglass
Nat Turner's Rebellion was a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginia, during August 1831. Led by Nat Turner, rebel slaves killed anywhere from 55 to 65 people, the highest number of fatalities caused by any slave uprising in the American South. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months afterwards. The rebellion was effectively suppressed at Belmont Plantation on the morning of August 23, 1831. There was widespread fear in the aftermath of the rebellion, and white militias organized in retaliation against slaves. The state executed 56 slaves accused of being part of the rebellion. In the frenzy, many non-participant enslaved people were punished. At least 100 blacks, and possibly up to 200, were murdered by militias and mobs in the area. Across the South, state legislatures passed new laws prohibiting education of slaves and free blacks, restricting rights of assembly and other civil rights for free blacks, and requiring white ministers to be present at black worship services. Nat Turner: http://www.biography.com/people/nat-turner-9512211
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and during the American Civil War, a Union spy. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made about thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era struggled for women's suffrage.Harriet Tubman: http://www.biography.com/people/harriet-tubman-9511430
Martha "Patty" Cannon (circa 1760 – May 11, 1829) was the leader of a gang in the early 19th century that kidnapped slaves and free blacks from the Delmarva Peninsula and transported and sold them to plantation owners located further south. Later accounts of her life refer to her as Lucretia P. Cannon, although there is no evidence to indicate she used the Lucretia name in her lifetime. She was indicted for four murders in 1829 and died in prison while awaiting trial, purportedly a suicide via poison. Victim accounts printed in the abolitionist journal the African Observer state that captives were chained and hidden in the basement, the attic, and secret rooms in the house. Captives were taken in covered wagons to Cannon's Ferry (now Woodland Ferry). At the ferry, they would sometimes meet a schooner traveling down the Nanticoke River to the Chesapeake Bay and on to Georgia slave markets. OVERVIEW: https://www.delawareonline.com/story/life/2019/06/13/legend-patty-cannon-wickedest-woman-america/1444450001/
Thomas Garrett (August 21, 1789 – January 25, 1871) was an American abolitionist and leader in the Underground Railroad movement before the American Civil War. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Garrett
Samuel and Emeline Hawkins: http://history.delaware.gov/freedom/people_emeline.shtml
Samuel Burris (1808–1863) was an African-American member of the Underground Railroad. Samuel was a free black man in a time when slavery was at its peak. Burris decided to move himself and his family to the safe city of Philadelphia, but from there he would made trips make and forth to the South to free other African Americans from slavery. Burris and his partner John Hunn started working with the Underground Railroad system in 1845. They worked closely together helping free slaves that were escaping from Delaware and Maryland. He was apprehended whilst helping a woman by the name of Marie Mathews escape from Dover Hundred. Immediately after being captured Burris was put in Dover jail for fourteen months while he awaited his trial. He was then convicted and automatically sentenced to be auctioned off into slavery. When Burris’ friends who were active abolitionists found he was about to be sold they acted to free him. One of them posed as a slave buyer and bought Burris, then set him free. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Burris
Christiana Slave Riot: After the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, open skirmishes took place between Southern slave catchers and Northern abolitionists who despised slavery and what they saw as its encroachments on the liberty and freedom of residents of the free states. Armed altercations and confrontations took place in a number of Northern communities between 1851 and 1861. One of the earliest—what came to be called the Christiana Riot—took place in 1851 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Lancaster County abuts Maryland along the lower reaches of the Susquehanna River, and the area had two branches of the Underground Railroad. As the county immediately north of the Mason-Dixon line, numerous fugitive slaves from Maryland and other slave states made their way into the region, often assisted and protected by anti-slavery Quakers. In response, slaveholders or their representatives operated in the area with increasing frequency after 1850, kidnapping fugitives and returning them to the South. One slave-capturing expedition in September, 1851 led to the Christiana Riot. John Beard, Thomas Wilson, Alexander Scott, and Edward Thompson (the names they were known by in Pennsylvania) escaped enslavement of the Gorsuch family of Maryland and took up residence in Lancaster County. Under provisions of the 1850 Fugitive Slave law, the elder Gorsuch swore out warrants on his former slaves. Serving and executing these arrest warrants led directly to the Christiana Riots of 1851 and resulting trials. Edward Gorsuch, a wealthy slaveholder, led a party of slave catchers into Lancaster County. Hearing that they were on the farm of William Parker, a free African American, they, with the help of US Marshals, attempted to forcefully enact the arrest warrants. When Gorsuch and his men arrived, Eliza, Parker’s wife, blew a horn which summoned sympathetic neighbors. Armed neighbors including former slaves as well as free black and white abolitionists converged on the Parker farm and confronted the Gorsuch party. Fighting broke out and the elder Gorsuch was killed and his son wounded. The US Marshals and the slave catchers retreated. Later the Marshals returned with three detachments of US Marines. By that point, William Parker and his wife Eliza were already en route to Canada, helped along the way by Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists. Thirty-eight other men, however, were arrested including four white Quakers. They were all charged with treason. The first man brought to trial, the Quaker Castner Hanway—erroneously thought to be the leader of the anti-slavery men—was acquitted. Since authorities thought this was the strongest case, they released the other 37 men. The acquittal of all of the defendants was hailed by Northern abolitionists as a major victory against slavery and especially against the Fugitive Slave Act. Southerners, however, felt that their property could not be secured even in the North. Thus the riot became the first of a series of episodes including “Bleeding Kansas” in the late 1850s and John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 that propelled the nation toward the Civil War. (c) https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/christiana-riot-1851/ http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-christiana-riot
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) was a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court held that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, could not be American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court, and that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the federal territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Dred Scott, an enslaved African American man who had been taken by his owners to free states and territories, attempted to sue for his freedom. In a 7–2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court denied Scott's request. For only the second time in its history the Supreme Court ruled an Act of Congress to be unconstitutional. Although Taney hoped that his ruling would definitively settle the slavery question, the decision immediately spurred vehement dissent from anti-slavery elements in the North, especially Republicans. Many contemporary lawyers, and most modern legal scholars, consider the ruling regarding slavery in the territories to be dictum, not binding precedent. The decision proved to be an indirect catalyst for the American Civil War. It was functionally superseded by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave African Americans full citizenship. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1850-1900/60us393
John Brown (May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) was a white American abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. During the 1856 conflict in Kansas, Brown commanded forces at the Battle of Black Jack and the Battle of Osawatomie. Brown's followers also killed five slavery supporters at Pottawatomie. In 1859, Brown led an unsuccessful raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry that ended with his capture. Brown's trial resulted in his conviction and a sentence of death by hanging. https://www.history.com/topics/abolitionist-movement/john-brown
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. In Congress, it was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865. On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the American Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. The amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The amendment was bitterly contested, particularly by Southern states, which were forced to ratify it in order for them to regain representation in Congress. The Fourteenth Amendment, particularly its first section, is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark decisions such as Roe v. Wade (1973), regarding abortion, and Bush v. Gore (2000), regarding the 2000 presidential election. The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_Amendments
Marriage and FamilyIn 1844, at the age of 23, Still relocated to Philadelphia, where he worked first as a janitor and then as a clerk for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Soon he became an active member of the organization, and by 1850 he served as the chairman of the committee established to help freedom seekers.While he was in Philadelphia, Still met and married Letitia George. Following their marriage in 1847, the couple had four children: Caroline Matilda Still, one of the first African American women doctors in the United States; William Wilberforce Still, a prominent African American lawyer in Philadelphia; Robert George Still, a journalist and print shop owner; and Frances Ellen Still, an educator who was named after the poet Frances Watkins Harper.
The Underground RailroadBetween 1844 and 1865, Still helped at least 60 enslaved Black people escape bondage. Still interviewed many of the enslaved Black people seeking freedom, men, women, and families, documenting where they came from, the difficulties they met and help they found along the way, their final destination, and the pseudonyms they used to relocate.During one of his interviews, Still realized that he was questioning his older brother Peter, who had been sold to another enslaver when their mother escaped. During his time with the Anti-Slavery Society, Still put together records of more than 1,000 former enslaved people, keeping the information hidden until slavery was abolished in 1865.With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Still was elected chairman of the Vigilance Committee organized to find a way to circumvent the legislation.
African American Civic LeaderSince his work with the Underground Railroad had to be kept secret, Still kept a fairly low public profile until enslaved people were freed. Nonetheless, he was a fairly prominent leader of the Black community. In 1855, he traveled to Canada to observe enclaves of formerly enslaved people.By 1859, Still began the fight to desegregate Philadelphia's public transportation system by publishing a letter in a local newspaper. Although Still was supported by many in this endeavor, some members of the Black community were less interested in gaining civil rights. As a result, Still published a pamphlet entitled, "A Brief Narrative of the Struggle for the Rights of the Colored People of Philadelphia in the City Railway Cars" in 1867. After eight years of lobbying, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law ending segregation of public transportation.Still was also an organizer of a YMCA for Black youngsters; an active participant in the Freedmen's Aid Commission; and a founding member of the Berean Presbyterian Church. He also helped establish a Mission School in North Philadelphia.
After 1865In 1872, seven years after the abolition of slavery, Still published his collected interviews in a book entitled, "The Underground Rail Road." The book included more than 1,000 interviews and was 800 pages long; the tales are heroic and harrowing, and they illustrate how people suffered deeply and sacrificed much to escape enslavement. Notably, the text underscored the fact that the abolitionist movement in Philadelphia was primarily organized and maintained by African Americans.As a result, Still became known as the "Father of the Underground Railroad." Of his book, Still said, "We very much need works on various topics from the pens of colored men to represent the race intellectually." The publication of "The Underground Rail Road" was important to the body of literature published by African Americans documenting their history as abolitionists and formerly enslaved people.Still's book was published in three editions and went on to become the most circulated text on the Underground Railroad. In 1876, Still placed the book on exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition to remind visitors of the legacy of enslavement in the United States. By the late 1870s, he had sold an estimated 5,000-10,000 copies. In 1883, he issued the third expanded edition that included an autobiographical sketch.
BusinessmanDuring his career as an abolitionist and civil rights activist, Still acquired considerable personal wealth. He began purchasing real estate throughout Philadelphia as a young man. Later, he ran a coal business and established a store selling new and used stoves. He also received proceeds from the sales of his book.To publicize his book, Still built a network of efficient, entrepreneurial, college-educated sales agents to sell what he described as a collection of "quiet examples of what fortitude can achieve where freedom is the goal."
DeathStill died in 1902 of heart trouble. In Still's obituary, The New York Times wrote that he was "one of the best-educated members of his race, who was known throughout the country as the 'Father of the Underground Railroad.'"
Songs of the Underground Railroad
Songs were used in everyday life by African slaves. Singing was tradition brought from Africa by the first slaves; sometimes their songs are called spirituals. Singing served many purposes such as providing repetitive rhythm for repetitive manual work, inspiration and motivation. Singing was also use to express their values and solidarity with each other and during celebrations. Songs were used as tools to remember and communicate since the majority of slaves could not read. Harriet Tubman and other slaves used songs as a strategy to communicate with slaves in their struggle for freedom. Coded songs contained words giving directions on how to escape also known as signal songs or where to meet known as map songs.
1. Wade in the Water: Tubman used “Wade in the Water” to tell slaves to get into the water to avoid being seen and make it through. This is an example of a map song, where directions are coded into the lyrics.
Chorus: Wade in the Water, wade in the water children. Wade in the Water. God’s gonna trouble the water.Who are those children all dressed in Red?God’s gonna trouble the water.Must be the ones that Moses led.God’s gonna trouble the water.
2. Steal Away: This song communicates that the person singing it is planning to escape.
Chorus: Steal away, steal away!Steal away to Jesus!Steal away, steal away home!I ain’t got long to stay here!My Lord calls me!He calls me by the thunder!The trumpet sound it in my soul!I ain’t got long to stay here!
3. Sweet Chariot: If a slave heard this song he would know he had to be ready to escape, a band of angels are coming to take him to freedom. The Underground Railroad (sweet chariot) is coming south (swing low) to take the slave to the north or freedom (carry me home).
Swing low, sweet chariot,Coming for to carry me home,Swing low, sweet chariot,Coming for to carry me home.
I looked over Jordan and what did I seeComing for to carry me home,A band of angels coming after me,Coming for to carry me home.
I you get there before I do,Coming for to carry me home,Tell all my friends that I’m coming, too,Coming for to carry me home.
4. Follow the Drinking Gourd: This song suggests escaping in the spring as the days get longer. It also refers to quails which start calling each other in April. The drinking gourd is a water dipper which is a code name for the Big Dipper which points to the Pole Star towards the north. Moss grows on the north side of dead trees, so if the Big Dipper is not visible, dead trees will guide them north.
When the Sun comes backAnd the first quail callsFollow the Drinking Gourd.For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedomIf you follow the Drinking Gourd.
The riverbank makes a very good road.The dead trees will show you the way.Left foot, peg foot, traveling on,Follow the Drinking Gourd.
The river ends between two hillsFollow the Drinking Gourd.There’s another river on the other sideFollow the Drinking Gourd.
When the great big river meets the little riverFollow the Drinking Gourd.For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedomIf you follow the drinking gourd.
5. Hail, Happy Spirits: A song sung by conductors like Harriet Tubman when approaching a group after taking a detour to get food for the day. This song lets them know it is safe to approach him/her.
Hail, oh hail, ye happy spirits,Death no more shall make you fear,Grief nor sorrow, pain nor anguish,Shall no more distress you there.
Around Him are then thousand angels,Always ready to obey command;They are always hovering ‘round you,Till you reach the heavenly land.
6. Go Down, Moses: On the way out, this song let runaways know it was not safe to come out, there is danger in the way.
Chorus: Oh go down, Moses,Way down into Egypt’s land,Tell old Pharaoh,Let my people go.
Oh Pharaoh said he would go cross,Let my people go And don’t get lost in the wilderness,Let my people go.
You may hinder me here, but you can’t up there,Let my people go,He sits in the Heaven and answers prayer,Let my people go!