The Underground Rail Road by William Still
Originally published in 1872 and out of print for many years, this landmark book presents firsthand accounts of slaves escaping north by way of the human support network known as the Underground Railroad. The narratives were painstakingly documented by William Still (1821-1902), a son of emancipated slaves who helped guide untold numbers of fugitives to safety as an Underground Railroad "conductor" based in Philadelphia. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made William Still's work extremely risky, both personally and for the clandestine operation he supervised for over a decade. Under the law, free northern states were prohibited from harboring so-called runaway slaves, and citizens who provided aid were subject to steep fines, civil penalties, and imprisonment. In spite of the risks, Still corresponded with, interviewed, and recorded the stories of hundreds of fugitives, concealing the records in a grave until the day they could safely be made public. William Still's meticulous record keeping appears to have been unique among high-level Underground Railroad operatives. Certainly, no comparable history of the northern slave exodus has survived to this day. In terms of its scope and depth, The Underground Rail Road stands alone in documenting the extraordinary experiences of those who escaped slavery in mid-19th century America.