The Underground Railroad eBook

William Still
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 1,446 pages of information about The Underground Railroad.

    NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., December 4, 1871.

MR. WILLIAM STILL, DEAR SIR:—­I sincerely regret the absence of statistics that would enable me to furnish you with many events, that would assist you in describing the operations of the Underground Rail Road.  I never kept any record of those persons passing through my hands, nor did I ever anticipate that the history of that perilous period would ever be written.  I can only refer to the part I took in it from memory, and if I could delineate the actual facts as they occurred they would savor so much of egotism that I should feel ashamed to make them public.  I willingly refer to a few incidents which you may select and use as you may think proper.
You are perfectly cognizant of the fact, that after the decision in York, Pa., of the celebrated Prigg case, Pennsylvania was regarded as free territory, which Canada afterwards proved to be, and that the Susquehanna river was the recognized northern boundary of the slave-holding empire.  The borough of Columbia, situated on its eastern bank, in the county of Lancaster, was the great depot where the fugitives from Virginia and Maryland first landed.  The long bridge connecting Wrightsville with Columbia, was the only safe outlet by which they could successfully escape their pursuers.  When they had crossed this bridge they could look back over its broad silvery stream on its western shore, and say to the slave power:  “Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther.”  Previous to that period, the line of fugitive travel was from Baltimore, by the way of Havre de Grace to Philadelphia; but the difficulty of a safe passage across the river, at that place caused the route to be changed to York, Pa., a distance of fifty-eight miles, the fare being forty dollars, and thence to Columbia, in the dead hour of the night.  My house was at the end of the bridge, and as I kept the station, I was frequently called up in the night to take charge of the passengers.
On their arrival they were generally hungry and penniless.  I have received hundreds in this condition; fed and sheltered from one to seventeen at a time in a single night.  At this point the road forked; some I sent west by boats, to Pittsburgh, and others to you in our cars to Philadelphia, and the incidents of their trials form a portion of the history you have compiled.  In a period of three years from 1847 to 1850, I passed hundreds to the land of freedom, while others, induced by high wages, and the feeling that they were safe in Columbia, worked in the lumber and coal yards of that place.  I always persuaded them to go to Canada, as I had no faith in their being able to elude the grasp of the slave-hunters.  Indeed, the merchants had the confidence of their security and desired them to remain; several of my friends told me that I was injuring the trade of the place by persuading the laborers to leave.  Indeed, many of the fugitives themselves looked
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The Underground Railroad from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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