Historical Markers
William Whipper Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

William Whipper

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
919 Lombard Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
June 28, 1992

Behind the Marker

Oil on canvas, head and shoulders
William Whipper, Attributed to William Matthew Prior, ca. 1835.
William Whipper and his partner markerStephen Smith built one of the most successful lumber and real estate empires in nineteenth-century Pennsylvania. Their business holdings included real estate, railroad cars, and a steamship- all of which were frequently used to help fugitive slaves escape to the north.

Whipper's home in Columbia, Pennsylvania, was near the Wrightsville Bridge on the Susquehanna River. He claimed that slaves typically paid forty dollars to come from Maryland to York and then to his home, where they usually arrived "hungry and penniless." He recalled that he "received hundreds in this condition," ranging from "one to seventeen at a time in a single night."

William Whipper founded the American Moral Reform Society, and was a prominent spokesman for abolition.
William Whipper, circa 1870.
The runaways were then dispatched to various white and black residents in Columbia. Some remained in the small community, which became the home to nearly 1,000 blacks in the years before the Civil War. Others went by boat to Pittsburgh. The vast majority, however, rode in Smith and Whipper lumber wagons or rail cars to Philadelphia, where markerWilliam Still and other members of the Vigilance Committee received them.

As editor of the journal of the American Moral Reform Society, an organization of African Americans whose purpose was to abolish slavery and establish liberty, justice, and humanity for all blacks, Whipper originally believed in non-resistance and moral persuasion. Eventually, however, too many encounters with racist whites in Columbia changed his mind. When a fugitive was shot and killed in 1852, Whipper noted sternly that it offered an example of "bullet emancipation" and that at least "it was better to deprive [the runaway] of his life than his liberty."

Whipper spent the latter part of his life in Philadelphia where he was a prominent member of the city's African American community.
Back to Top