Original Document
Original Document
William Still, from his Preface to The Underground Railroad, 1872.

Those who come after us seeking for information in regard to the existence, atrocity, struggles and destruction of Slavery, will have no trouble in finding this hydra-headed monster ruling and tyrannizing over Church and State, North and South, white and black, without let or hindrance, for at least several generations. Nor will posterity have any difficulty in finding the deeds of the brave and invincible opposers of Slavery, who in the language of Wm. Lloyd Garrison, declared without concealment and without compromise: "I am in earnest, I will not equivocate-I will not excuse-I will not retreat a single inch-and I will be heard."

While this resolute spirit actuated the hearts of all true abolitionists, it was a peculiar satisfaction and gratification to them to know that the slaves themselves were struggling and hungering for deliverance. Hence such evidence from this quarter never failed to meet with hearty sympathy and aid. But here the enemy was never willingly allowed to investigate…

The risk of aiding fugitives was never lost sight of, and the safety of all concerned called for still tongues. Hence sad and thrilling stories were listened to, and made deep impressions; but as a universal rule, friend and fugitive parted with only very vivid recollection of the secret interview and with mutual sympathy; for a length of time no narratives were written. The writer, in common with others, took no notes. But after the restoration of Peter Still, his own brother (the kidnapped and the ransomed), after forty years' cruel separation from his mother, the wonderful discovery and joyful reunion, the idea forced itself upon his mind that all over this wide and extended country thousands of mothers and children, separated by Slavery, were in a similar way living without the slightest knowledge of each other's where-abouts, praying and weeping without ceasing, as did this mother and son. Under these reflections it seemed reasonable to hope that by carefully gathering the narratives of Underground Rail Road passengers, in some way or other some of the bleeding and severed hearts might be united and comforted; and by the use that might be made privately, if not publicly, of just such facts as would naturally be embraced in their brief narratives, re-unions might take place.

For years it was the writer's privilege to see many travelers, to receive from their own lips the most interesting and in many cases exceedingly thrilling accounts of their struggles for liberty, and to learn who had held them in bondage, how they had been treated, what prompted them to escape, and whom that were near and dear to them they had left in chains. Their hopes, fears and sufferings were thus recorded in a book. It scarcely need be added with no expectation, however, that the day was so near when these things could be published. It is now a source of great satisfaction to feel that not only these numerous narratives may be published, but that in connection therewith, for the completeness of the work, many interesting private letters from fugitives in Canada, slaves in the South, Underground Rail Road conductors and stockholders, and last and least, from slaveholders, in the bargain-all having a direct bearing on the mysterious road...

Far be it from the writer to assume, however, that these Records cover the entire Underground Rail Road operations. Many local branches existed in different parts of the country, which neither time nor limit would allow mention of in this connection. Good men labored and suffered, who deserve to be held in the highest admiration by the friends of Freedom, whose names may be looked for in vain in these pages; for which reason some may be inclined to complain. With respect to these points it may here be remarked that in gathering narratives from unwritten sources-from memory simply-no amount of pains or labor could possibly succeed in making a trustworthy history. The writer has deemed it best, therefore, to confine himself to facts coming within his personal knowledge, and to the records of his own preserving, which, by the way, are quite too voluminous to be all used in this work. Frequent abridgements and omissions must be made.

The writer is fully conscious of his literary imperfections. The time allotted him from other pressing duties is, moreover, exceedingly limited. Nevertheless he feels that he owes it to the cause of Freedom, and to the Fugitives and their posterity in particular, to bring the doings of the U. G. R. R. before the public in the most truthful manner; not for the purpose of amusing the reader, but to show what efforts were made and what success was gained for Freedom under difficulties. That some professing a love of liberty at this late date will be disposed to criticise some of the methods resorted to in aiding in the escape of fugitives as herein recounted, may be expected.

While the writer holds the labors of Abolitionists generally in very grateful appreciation, he hopes not to be regarded as making any invidious discriminations in favor of the individual friends of the slave, whose names may be brought out prominently in this work, as it is not with the Anti-Slavery question proper that he is dealing, but simply the Underground Rail Road. In order, therefore, fittingly to bring the movements of this enterprise to light, the writer could not justly confine himself to the Acting Committee, but felt constrained to bring in others-Friends- who never forsook the fugitive, who visited him in prison, clothed him when naked, fed him when hungry, wept with him when he wept, and cheered him with their warmest sympathies and friendship.

In addition to the names of the Acting Committee, he has felt constrained to beg the portraits of the following stockholders and advisers of the Road, whose names will be found on the next page, and in thus presenting a brief sketch of their labors, he feels that the true friends of the slave in recognizing them in this connection with many of the once Fugitives (now citizens), will regard it as a tribute to the Anti-Slavery cause rather than the individuals themselves.

PHILADELPHIA, January, 1872.

Credit: William Still, The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c. (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872), 3–6.
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