The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia
368 pages, 7.25 x 10.30 , 41 b&w illustrations
Hardcover | 9780268200367 | April 2021
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268200381 | April 2021
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268200374 | April 2021
The first full-length biography of William Still, one of the most important leaders of the Underground Railroad.
William Still: The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia is the first major biography of the free black abolitionist William Still, who coordinated the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad and was a pillar of the Railroad as a whole. Based in Philadelphia, Still built a reputation as a courageous leader, writer, philanthropist, and guide for fugitive slaves. This monumental work details Still’s life story beginning with his parents’ escape from bondage in the early nineteenth century and continuing through his youth and adulthood as one of the nation’s most important Underground Railroad agents and, later, as an early civil rights pioneer. Still worked personally with Harriet Tubman, assisted the family of John Brown, helped Brown’s associates escape from Harper’s Ferry after their famous raid, and was a rival to Frederick Douglass among nationally prominent African American abolitionists. Still’s life story is told in the broader context of the anti-slavery movement, Philadelphia Quaker and free black history, and the generational conflict that occurred between Still and a younger group of free black activists led by Octavius Catto.
Unique to this book is an accessible and detailed database of the 995 fugitives Still helped escape from the South to the North and Canada between 1853 and 1861. The database contains twenty different fields—including name, age, gender, skin color, date of escape, place of origin, mode of transportation, and literacy—and serves as a valuable aid for scholars by offering the opportunity to find new information, and therefore a new perspective, on runaway slaves who escaped on the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad. Based on Still’s own writings and a multivariate statistical analysis of the database of the runaways he assisted on their escape to freedom, the book challenges previously accepted interpretations of the Underground Railroad. The audience for William Still is a diverse one, including scholars and general readers interested in the history of the anti-slavery movement and the operation of the Underground Railroad, as well as genealogists tracing African American ancestors.
William C. Kashatus holds a doctorate in history education from the University of Pennsylvania. He curated Just Over the Line: Chester County and the Underground Railroad, recognized by The Journal of American History as a “first rate exhibit and model of outreach to the local community” and winner of the American Association of Historical Societies and Museums Award of Merit. He is the author or co-author of thirty books, including Harriet Tubman: A Biography and In Pursuit of Freedom: Teaching the Underground Railroad.
“There has been a need for a good biography of William Still. This sweeping book situates Still at the center of the workings of the Underground Railroad as well as other abolitionist-related activities of the period. William Still provides a sense of the world of which Still was a part and the many roles he played in this activist movement.” —Spencer R. Crew, author of Thurgood Marshall: A Life in American History
"With this book, William C. Kashatus has delivered a valuable addition to the growing body of serious literature on the Underground Railroad. His attention to the details of Still's life both before and after his engagement in abolitionist work provides a new and rounded picture of a man who for too long remained a vague figure behind his well-known compendium of information on the fugitive slaves who passed through Philadelphia." —Fergus M. Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan
"William C. Kashatus's contribution expands the bandwidth of African American historiography on the Underground Railroad and William Still. For those who want a closer look at an extraordinary and multidimensional human being, William Still provides an expert and sophisticated view." —Kelisha B. Graves, editor of Nannie Helen Burroughs
"William C. Kashatus has given us what will probably be the definitive biography of William Still. He has also deepened our understanding of the experiences of fugitive slaves and the people who aided them before the Civil War." —Thomas Hamm, editor of Quaker Writings
"William C. Kashatus’s William Still, along with providing a rich account of the great abolitionist and archivist of the Underground Railroad, brilliantly conveys the courage, the resourcefulness, and the intelligence of the slaves escaping towards freedom. This is history as it should be written: poignant, passionate, and trenchant." —Kenneth A. McClane, author of Color: Essays on Race, Family, and History
"William C. Kashatus’s William Still is a double tribute to the heroism of this fascinating man as well as to that of the many freedom-seekers who made the journey out of the house of bondage and of those who aided them." —Christopher A. McAuley, author of The Spirit vs. the Souls
"Kashatus’s detailed biography of William Still, with its stories of courageous slaves plotting daring escapes, and moving accounts of free Black people who were kidnapped and taken into slavery, reveals the interracial cooperation involved in helping escaped slaves reach freedom, and honors the man who, at his death in 1902, was named 'Father of the Underground Railroad.'" —Foreword Reviews (Starred Review)
"In the first scholarly biography of [William] Still, Kashatus highlights the critical roles Still and other Black Americans played along the entire Underground Railroad, and the risks they took to aid enslaved people. A penetrating analysis of Still’s interviews reveals new and important insights into the enslaved people who made the journey into freedom. . . . An essential work that is a must-read for those interested in the Underground Railroad and Black history in the U.S." —Library Journal (Starred Review)