Preserving American Freedom

The Evolution of American Liberties in Fifty Documents

Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt), June 2-29, 1855

Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Author(s): 
June 2-29, 1855
Arrived— Lewis Chiles1 arrived per Sch. schooner 2 From Richmond. Brought by Cap. _____ Had been owned by Lewis Hill. His business was to hire out servants. Lewis Chiles is stout, 6ft high, fine look dark chesnut color intelligent &c Had been used pretty well with the exception of having been sold several times.
He left on the 23rd of Ap. April and had been meeting with obstructions up to Last Sunday night. Paid $25–. for his passage. Left a wife, Louisa, slave. Knews nothing of her husbands intentions of leaving.
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Arrived. (4) David Bennett, new name Henry Washington,3 and wife Martha, & their two children. Oldest, Geo., youngest 1 month old without a name— From Lowdon Co. County Aldee P.O Had been owned by Capt. James Taylor his wife was owned by Geo. Carter.
The wife's master was the owner of only two, but a most brutal man. Flogging Females when stripped naked was common with him. Martha had been stripped and flogged shamely after her marriage. David is about 32, his wife about 27, two young children. All hail and "likely" &c
Source Information: 
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Still, William, 1821-1902
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Treasures Collection (HSP.Treasures)
AmS .232, pp. 174-85
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Author(s): 
June 2-29, 1855
Arrived. (2) Henry Washington new name Anthony Henley, safely arrived from Norfolk where he had been held by Seth March, a mild tempered man. Was excessively close, in money matters however, allowing Henry only $1.50 a week to pay his board and find his clothes for th his wife therefore he could do nothing for. Henry is turned of 50, dark, intelligent well made &c. Left a wife. named Polly.— Henry left to purely because he was allowed no priviledge to do any thing for his wife. Had not been treated very ruffly roughly .
Henry Stewart also came in company with the above named individuals He left Plymouth N.C. left about a week since. Is 23 yrs of age dark, very intelligent and active, and had been hired out
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for $182– Dols. dollars per year. Would bring in the Market $1500. Had been owned by James Monroe Woodhouse, Farmer. A moderate man, dident didn't flog, but would not give a slave a cent of money, scarcely, upon any consideration. He left a wife, Martha Bell, and two children, Mary Ann & Susan Jane. He was obliged thought it most prudent not to tell his wife of his designs to escape. Had procured a pass to go to Norfolk, for a week.
Source Information: 
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Still, William, 1821-1902
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Treasures Collection (HSP.Treasures)
AmS .232, pp. 174-85
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Author(s): 
June 2-29, 1855
Arrived. Wm Nelson and Susan his wife, and his son Wm Thomas; also Louisa Bell & Ellias Jasper, all arrived from Norfolk, per Capt. B.
Wm. is about 40, dark chesnut, medium size, very intelligent, member of the Methodist Church, under the charge of the Rev. Mr. Jones. His owner's name was Turner & Whitehead. wh with whom he had served for 20 yr's in the capasity of "Packer". He had been treated with mildness in some respects, though had been very tighly worked, allowed only $1.50 per week to board & clothe himself and family upon. Consequently he was obliged to make up the balance as he could. Had been sold once one sister had been sold also. He was prompted to escape because he wanted his liberty—was not satisfied with not having the bl priviledge of providing for his family, His value $1000–. Paid $240– for himself, wife & child & Mrs Bell.4
Susan is about 30, dark, rather above medium size, well made
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good looking, intelligent &c, and a member of the same church to which her husband belonged. Was owned by Thos. Bottimore with whom she had lived for 7 yr's. Her treatment had been a part of the time had been mild, the marriage of her master however made a change, afterward she had been treated badly. Her master to gratify his wife constantly threatening to sell her. 4 of her Sisters had been sold away to parts unknown years ago. Left Father & mother, 3 Brothers & one sister. Still in Verginia Virginia , living about 100 miles from Norfolk. $1000 was the demand of the owner for Susan & her child 22 mos. old.
Louisa Bell is the wife of a free man. is about 28 chesnut color, good looking, intelligent, genteel, and a member of no church. Was owned Stassen by L. Stasson, Confectioner. [Her] lot had been terrible on account of the continual threats to sell her. Had once been sold, had also had 5 sisters sold besides her Mother. Th Louisa was oblige to leave
Source Information: 
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Still, William, 1821-1902
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Treasures Collection (HSP.Treasures)
AmS .232, pp. 174-85
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Author(s): 
June 2-29, 1855
two of her children behind. a boy 6 yrs & a girl 2½ yrs —the boys name was Robt. & the girls Mary. Her husband, James Bell. is to come on.
Elias Jasper is about 32 yrs , stout dark, well featured, very gifted with his tounge & hands, had worked at the following trades, Rope Making, Carpentering, Engineering, Chair Making Painting, Mechanist & De Degaurreotyping Daguerreotyping , at which calling he was emplyoy employed when he left.5 For several yrs he had been in the habit of hiring his time for which he had paid $10. per month. In learning the above trades so he was obliged to gain the insight by his own ingenuity, paying occasionally for a lesson. His Master's Bayham, a retired gentleman. Had been sold once. Had suffered by various exposures, by flogging, envy, &c. Left a wife, Mary, but no child. Was not at liberty to inform her of his scheme to leave. She is owned by Mrs the Miss. Portlock's. Has been used tolerable well. pays $55– per year, washes &c.
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He is a member of the Methodist Ch. Church Often heard his mPaster preach up obedience to the slaves. Value $1200–
Mrs. Maria Joiner arrived per Capt. F., is 33 yr's of age, Molato,6 a fine hearty looking, and intelligent woman. Left a her husband, and one Sister. The name of her husband was Peter Joiner, the Sister, Ann. Had not been badly treated until lately, after the death of the old Master. when she fell into the hands of his daughter who drank and was very abuseful. using great violence. For this she was induced to leave. For 8 mos she was kept in private quarters where she suffered severely from Cold &c. Owner, Catherine Gordon Value $800–
Source Information: 
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Still, William, 1821-1902
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Treasures Collection (HSP.Treasures)
AmS .232, pp. 174-85
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Author(s): 
June 2-29, 1855
Arrived— (2) Richd Green new name Wm Smith & his Bro. brother Geo. arrived from Baltimore where they had been owned by Geo. Chambers. Richd is about 25, his Bro. brother Geo. 23, both are well made, rather tall, dark chesnut & color, & intelligente They were caused to escape because they had been denied the priviledge of going to visit their Parents any more.
The master, about 30 yrs ago when living in Cabot Co. County released Dina to her husband (the mother of those boys) of all claim, and gave her writings signed, & witnessed by his wifes Mother, Mary Ann Meed. The masters motives in releasing her however for was merely to get out of M. of her; Dina being in misrable health with no signs of recovery was a fit subject in the master’s opinion to Set free. He was particular to give the paper of release to So in case the law should require
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him to look after her he would be prepared for his defence.
Dinna was then the wife of a Slave by the name of Jacob Green, then owned by Nathan Childs for a term of years only— After the Father's times expired, he moved with his wife, Dinna, to Baltimore, where her health, in the course of a few yrs improved, and she became the Mother of another child, boy. The boy grew finely in the hands of his parents, unmolested, until a little over a year ago when her old Master got wind of the existence of the child, (having himself moved to Baltimore with his Slaves,) and very slyly to approach the house taking Geo. with him. He was no sooner in before he wished to know of Dinna whose child was this, pe pointing to the little boy. Ask Jacob was the reply of the Mother, the question was then put to the Father, to which he replied: I did not think that you would request any thing like that of him. he had the priviledge of
Source Information: 
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Still, William, 1821-1902
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Treasures Collection (HSP.Treasures)
AmS .232, pp. 174-85
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Author(s): 
June 2-29, 1855
any one he pleased in his house. "Where is he from" inquired the Master. He is mine replied the Father. "I have a right to have who I please in my house I I am my own man &c: "[Well?] replied the slave hunter, I found out whose it is presently I am going to take it home with me seizing the little fellow, at the same time ordering Dinna to put its his clothes on, The father by this time had also seized the bo his son, and told the slave holder to take [notion?] that he was not in the Country pulling an hauling people about &c. "I will have him or leave my heart blood in the house, was the savage answer of the Monster. He also threatened to shoot the Father. In the mids of the excitement Geo called in two officers to settle the difficulty. The officers inquired of the slaveholder to know what he was doing there. "I am after my rights, ans'ed the he answered. this boy" ans'd answered the Master. Have you ever seen it inquired the officers. No, said the the Master. How
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do you know he belongs to you, then"? I believe he is mine" said the savage. All they were then taken before an alderman, Before the aldern The Father owned the child but the Mother did not The child was then given to its Father. The Master then thought he would gain some satisfaction at least, then claimed the Mother, proceedings being thrown in Court nearly 1 year transpired before It the trial was concluded. Happily, however, by the Mothers having carefully preserved her her the release given her, the Court pronounced her free, about two mos. since
Source Information: 
Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, Agent William Still (excerpt)
Still, William, 1821-1902
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Treasures Collection (HSP.Treasures)
AmS .232, pp. 174-85
About This Document: 

In the 1850s, William Still began recording details about every fugitive slave whom he helped escape through the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia. The risks of such an enterprise cannot be overstated. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 threatened enormous repercussions for anyone who aided an escaped slave. Moreover, anyone who found Still's elaborate notes would learn the aliases, former owners, and routes of escape of every fugitive who had passed through Philadelphia. That information would compromise the safety of those listed in his diary. Still understood these risks and kept his journal carefully hidden for years.

In 1872, after the conclusion of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, Still was able to make his accounts public knowledge. In his book, The Underground Railroad, Still drew on the details he had recorded in his journal to elaborate on the lives and stories of many runaway slaves, in some cases providing updates about their freedom years after he helped them escape. Many of these fugitives remembered Still and sent letters thanking him for his service.

Even though Still did not initially plan to publish his notes, he had always intended that they would preserve the narrative of courage he saw in African American fugitives who were able to escape the South and start new lives. He also hoped his diary would reunite families who had been painfully divided in the slave trade. This goal was inspired by Still's own experience; in 1850 he had met one of his long-lost brothers through the Underground Railroad purely by chance. Still only recognized his brother's identity by interviewing him and hearing details about their mother, who had escaped enslavement many years before.

The escape narratives described in Still's journal offer a fascinating perspective on slavery in the 1850s. The records of the fugitives even in this short excerpt demonstrate a wide variety of experiences of enslavement differing motivations for seeking escape. The journal also hints at how difficult it was to keep slave families together. Executing an escape from slavery required incredible fortitude. Not only did fugitives risk being captured and punished, but they often faced the impossible decision of seeking their own freedom at the expense of leaving children and spouses behind. To travel in a large group, especially with children, increased the chances of being caught. Still's own mother made that painful choice years before his birth, when she left behind two sons in her escape from slavery.

This document was produced under desperate conditions. At the time that it was created, Still had no idea when, if ever, he could safely publish it. Both the journal's author and its subjects were embroiled in a daily struggle against the threat of intolerance and brutality, but they persevered despite the danger. William Still's diary is crucial evidence of the audacity that the desire for freedom has provided Americans throughout history.

In early 2013, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania began a new digital history project that will explore William Still's Journal C and The Underground Railroad in greater detail. Click here to learn more.

Sources:

Larry Gara, "William Still and the Underground Railroad," Pennsylvania History 28 (1961): 33-44.

Stephen G. Hall, "To Render the Private Public: William Still and the Selling of 'The Underground Rail Road,'" Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 127 (2003): 35-55.

E. Delorus Preston Jr., "The Genesis of the Underground Railroad," Journal of Negro History 18 (1933): 144-170.

William Still, The Underground Rail Road: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c., Narrating the Hardships, Hair-Breadth Escapes, and Death Struggles of the Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom, as Related by Themselves and Others or Witnessed by the Author; Together with Sketches of Some of the Largest Stockholders, and Most Liberal Aiders and Advisers, of the Road (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872).

Edward Raymond Turner, "The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 36 (1912): 309-318.