William Still is youngest child of Levin and Sidney Steel. He lived as a slave with his parents and seventeen brothers and sisters. Levin, Still's father escaped slavery in Maryland for freedom in New Jersey. Still's mother escaped later with the children, changing the family name to Still. She changed her first name to Charity.
When Still was 23, he left the family farm in New Jersey for Philadelphia, to seek his fortune. He arrived, friendless with only five dollars in his possession. Still taught himself to read so well, that in three years he was able to hold the position of secretary in the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Still provided the all-white society with his views on how to aid fugitive slaves since, he had been one himself. He was such an asset to the group, that he was elected chairman in 1851. Still held the position for the next ten years. He also became chairman of the Vigilance Committee in 1852.
During this time, Still used his house as one of the busiest stations on the Undergroung Railroad. He was awakened hundreds of times during the night to provide fugitives with the food and clothing he supplied for them. Still interviewed the fugitives and kept careful records of each so that family and friends might locate them. According to his records, William Still helped 649 slaves receive their freedom. In 1872, he published his records in a book entitled, The Underground Railroad.
In Philadelphia, Still founded an orphanage for the chidren of African-American soldiers and sailors. In 1860, he went into the stove business. Due to his success, he branched out into the coal business, earning the fortune he had moved to Philadelphia to seek. Still was later elected to the Philadelphia Board of Trade. In 1880, he was one of the organizers of the first African-American YMCA. After a long and prosperous life, William Still died in 1902.
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