The Still Family Saga

The Still Family Saga: Seeking Freedom

William Still, who most historians agree is probably the second-most important person in Underground Railroad history after Harriet Tubman, remains unknown by most. He dedicated 14 years of his life to working as secretary for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. When freedom seekers arrived in Philadelphia, he would interview the former slaves and record their stories in his self-published book, The Underground Railroad. He assisted over 800 slaves escape and his narratives were published after the Civil War in 1872. During those years Still and Tubman crossed paths and thus an investigation of his contributions to American history vital links in my narrative paintings. 

Still’s parents were Levin a free man and Sydney a slave. They had four children at the time, two girls and two boys the youngest male child was age 6, named Peter. They were slaves in Caroline County Maryland prior to William Still’s birth, so Peter did not know of his brother William’s existence. Still’s parents made two attempts at freedom. After the first escape they settled in New Jersey, but Sydney and the four children were caught and taken back into slavery in Maryland. On the second attempt to escape the horrors of slavery, Sydney made the heartbreaking decision to take only the girls and leave the boys, since the journey was extremely hard for an adult and much harder with young children. She no doubt knew their sons would have a better chance of fending for themselves than their girls. 

Many years later Peter came into William’s office, he said he was from Alabama but was born in slavery in Maryland and sold at the age of 6. He saved $500 to purchase his freedom but could not purchase his family and needed help. Now 50 years old he searched for help from the Antislavery Society and found William, his brother. He was an agent on the Underground Railroad. His office in Philadelphia was passed through by many slaves.  

The amazing story of the Still brother’s meeting can’t be understood without starting with key events that occurred prior to William Still’s birth. Priest’s  painting and drawing research started where the story began, in Caroline County, Maryland.

The Still Family Saga