William Still (1821-1902)
Abolitionist, businessman and author, William Still was the youngest child of Charity and Levin Steel, both of whom were self-liberated blacks. They changed their surname to "Still," and Sidney renamed herself Charity to avoid recapture. In 1844, William Still moved from his birthplace near Medford, New Jersey, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.In 1847, he married Letitia George and together they raised four children: Caroline, Frances Ellen, William Wilbeforce, and Robert George. During the same year, Still began work as a clerk at the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. From 1852 to 1860, he continued to advocate the advancement of African Americans as an agent on the Underground Railroad. Still was also chairman of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, an organization established to assist escaping blacks on their journey towards Canada. Still utilized the records he kept during this time to write his 1872 book, The Underground Railroad. It is a remarkable work known for its use of the stories of escaping slaves in their own words, and more importantly, for his emphasis on the agency and genius of the enslaved. In the 1860s, William Still campaigned against discriminatory practices in the North, namely the inequitable treatment of blacks on Philadelphia streetcars. His business ventures included real estate, ownership of a stove store, and a very successful coal business.
by Aslaku Berhanu
Gara, Larry. "William Still and the Underground Railroad." Pennsylvania History 28.1 (January 1961): 33-44.
Still, William. Still's Underground Rail Road Records: with a Life of the Author: Narrating the Hardships, Hairbreadth Escapes and Death Struggles of the Slaves in their Efforts for Freedom: Together with Sketches of Some of the Eminent Friends of Freedom, and Most Liberal Aiders and Advisers of the Road. Philadelphia: William Still, 1886.
Former Home Address: 244 S. 12th Street
(See place marker no. 2 on map)
To learn more about William Still, please see:
- William Still's National Significance
- The Life and Times of William Still
- William Still's Contemporaries
- Links to related websites, including links to William Still's books
- View William Still's family photographs, correspondence, and related primary source materials by Searching the Collections