The Underground Railroad

Underground Rail Road Letters

Here are introduced a few out of a very large number of interesting letters, designed for other parts of the book as occasion may require. All letters will be given precisely as they were written by their respective authors, so that there may be no apparent room for charging the writer with partial colorings in any instance. Indeed, the originals, however ungrammatically written or erroneously spelt, in their native simplicity possess such beauty and force as corrections and additions could not possibly enhance—


WILMINGTON, 3mo. 23d, 1856.

DEAR FRIEND, WILLIAM STILL:—Since I wrote thee this morning informing thee of the safe arrival of the Eight from Norfolk, Harry Craige has informed me, that he has a man from Delaware that he proposes to take along, who arrived since noon. He will take the man, woman and two children from here with him, and the four men will get in at Marcus Hook. Thee may take Harry Craige by the hand as a brother, true to the cause; he is one of our most efficient aids on the Rail Road, and worthy of full confidence. May they all be favored to get on safe. The woman and three children are no common stock. I assure thee finer specimens of humanity are seldom met with. I hope herself and children may be enabled to find her husband, who has been absent some years, and the rest of their days be happy together.

I am, as ever, thy friend,



KIMBERTON, October 28th, 1855.

ESTEEMED FRIEND;—This evening a company of eleven friends reached here, having left their homes on the night of the 26th inst. They came into Wilmington, about ten o’clock on the morning of the 27th, and left there, in the town, their two carriages, drawn by two horses. They went to Thomas Garrett’s by open day-light and from thence were sent hastily onward for fear of pursuit. They reached Longwood meeting-house in the evening, at which place a Fair Circle had convened, and stayed a while in the meeting, then, after remaining all night with one of the Kennet friends, they were brought to Downingtown early in the morning, and from thence, by daylight, to within a short distance of this place.

They come from New Chestertown, within five miles of the place from which the nine lately forwarded came, and left behind them a colored woman who knew of their intended flight and of their intention of passing through Wilmington and leaving their horses and carriages there.

I have been thus particular in my statement, because the case seems to us one of unusual danger. We have separated the company for the present, sending a mother and five children, two of them quite small, in one direction, and a husband and wife and three lads in another, until I could write to you and get advice if you have any to give, as to the best method of forwarding them, and assistance pecuniarily, in getting them to Canada. The mother and children we have sent off of the usual route, and to a place where I do not think they can remain many days.

We shall await hearing from you. H. Kimber will be in the city on third day, the 30th, and any thing left at 408 Green Street directed to his care, will meet with prompt attention.

Please give me again the direction of Hiram Wilson and the friend in Elmira, Mr. Jones, I think. If you have heard from any of the nine since their safe arrival, please let us know when you write.

Very Respectfully,


2d day morning, 29th.—The person who took the husband and wife and three lads to E.F. Pennypecker, and Peart, has returned and reports that L. Peart sent three on to Norristown. We fear that there they will fall into the hands of an ignorant colored man Daniel Ross, and that he may not understand the necessity of caution. Will you please write to some careful person there? The woman and children detained in this neighborhood are a very helpless set. Our plan was to assist them as much as possible, and when we get things into the proper train for sending them on, to get the assistance of the husband and wife, who have no children, but are uncle and aunt to the woman with five, in taking with them one of the younger children, leaving fewer for the mother. Of the lads, or young men, there is also one whom we thought capable of accompanying one of the older girls—one to whom he is paying attention, they told us. Would it not be the best way to get those in Norristown under your own care? It seems to me their being sent on could then be better arranged. This, however, is only a suggestion,

Hastily yours,



(The reader will interpret for himself.)

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 11th, 1858.

MY DEAR SIR:—Susan Bell left here yesterday with the child of her relative, and since leaving I have thought, perhaps, you had not the address of the gentleman in Syracuse where the child is to be taken for medical treatment, etc. His name is Dr. H.B. Wilbur. A woman living with him is a most excellent nurse and will take a deep interest in the child, which, no doubt, will under Providence be the means of its complete restoration to health. Be kind enough to inform me whether Susan is with you, and if she is give her the proper direction. Ten packages were sent to your address last evening, one of them belongs to Susan, and she had better remain with you till she gets it, as it may not have come to hand. Susan thought she would go to Harrisburg when she left here and stay over Sunday, if so, she would not get to Philadelphia till Monday or Tuesday. Please acknowledge the receipt of this, and inform me of her arrival, also when the packages came safe to hand, inform me especially if Susan’s came safely.

Truly Yours,



FRIEND STILL:—The two women, Laura and Lizzy, arrived this morning. I shall forward them to Syracuse this afternoon.

The two men came safely yesterday, but went to Gibbs’. He has friends on board the boat who are on the lookout for fugitives, and send them, when found, to his house. Those whom you wish to be particularly under my charge, must have careful directions to this office.

There is now no other sure place, but the office, or Gibbs’, that I could advise you to send such persons. Those to me, therefore, must come in office hours. In a few days, however, Napoleon will have a room down town, and at odd times they can be sent there. I am not willing to put any more with the family where I have hitherto sometimes sent them.

When it is possible I wish you would advise me two days before a shipment of your intention, as Napoleon is not always on hand to look out for them at short notice. In special cases you might advise me by Telegraph, thus: “One M. (or one F.) this morning. W.S.” By which I shall understand that one Male, or one Female, as the case may be, has left Phila. by the 6 o’clock train—one or more, also, as the case may be.

Aug. 17th, 1855.

Truly Yours, S.H. GAY.


HAMILTON, Sept. 15th, 1856.

DEAR FRIEND STILL:—I write to inform you that Miss Mary Wever arrived safe in this city. You may imagine the happiness manifested on the part of the two lovers, Mr. H. and Miss W. I think they will be married as soon as they can get ready. I presume Mrs. Hill will commence to make up the articles to-morrow. Kind Sir, as all of us is concerned about the welfare of our enslaved brethren at the South, particularly our friends, we appeal to your sympathy to do whatever is in your power to save poor Willis Johnson from the hands of his cruel master. It is not for me to tell you of his case, because Miss Wever has related the matter fully to you. All I wish to say is this, I wish you to write to my uncle, at Petersburg, by our friend, the Capt. Tell my uncle to go to Richmond and ask my mother whereabouts this man is. The best for him is to make his way to Petersburg; that is, if you can get the Capt. to bring him. He have not much money. But I hope the friends of humanity will not withhold their aid on the account of money. However we will raise all the money that is wanting to pay for his safe delivery. You will please communicate this to the friends as soon as possible.

Yours truly,



WASHINGTON, D.C., June 22d, 1854.

MR. WILLIAM STILL:—Sir—I have just received a letter from my friend, Wm. Wright, of York Sulphur Springs, Pa., in which he says, that by writing to you, I may get some information about the transportation of some property from this neighborhood to your city or vicinity.

A person who signs himself Wm. Penn, lately wrote to Mr. Wright, saying he would pay $300 to have this service performed. It is for the conveyance of only one SMALL package; but it has been discovered since, that the removal cannot be so safely effected without taking two larger packages with it. I understand that the three are to be brought to this city and stored in safety, as soon as the forwarding merchant in Philadelphia shall say he is ready to send on. The storage, etc., here, will cost a trifle, but the $300 will be promptly paid for the whole service. I think Mr. Wright’s daughter, Hannah, has also seen you. I am also known to Prof. C.D. Cleveland, of your city. If you answer this promptly, you will soon hear from Wm. Penn himself.

Very truly yours,



PETERSBURG, VA., Oct. 17th, 1860.

MR. W. STILL:—Dear Sir—I am happy to think, that the time has come when we no doubt can open our correspondence with one another again. Also I am in hopes, that these few lines may find you and family well and in the enjoyment of good health, as it leaves me and family the same. I want you to know, that I feel as much determined to work in this glorious cause, as ever I did in all of my life, and I have some very good hams on hand that I would like very much for you to have. I have nothing of interest to write about just now, only that the politics of the day is in a high rage, and I don’t know of the result, therefore, I want you to be one of those wide-a-wakes as is mentioned from your section of country now-a-days, &c. Also, if you wish to write to me, Mr. J. Brown will inform you how to direct a letter to me.

No more at present, until I hear from you; but I want you to be a wide-a-wake.

Yours in haste,



ST. CATHARINE, C.W., July 2d, 1855.

MY DEAR FRIEND, WM. STILL:—Mr. Elias Jasper and Miss Lucy Bell having arrived here safely on Saturday last, and found their “companions in tribulation,” who had arrived before them, I am induced to write and let you know the fact. They are a cheerful, happy company, and very grateful for their freedom. I have done the best I could for their comfort, but they are about to proceed across the lake to Toronto, thinking they can do better there than here, which is not unlikely. They all remember you as their friend and benefactor, and return to you their sincere thanks. My means of support are so scanty, that I am obliged to write without paying postage, or not write at all. I hope you are not moneyless, as I am. In attending to the wants of numerous strangers, I am much of the time perplexed from lack of means; but send on as many as you can and I will divide with them to the last crumb.

Yours truly,



BOSTON, MASS., Feb. 15th, 1855.

No. 2, Change Avenue.

MY DEAR FRIEND:—Allow me to take the liberty of addressing you and at the same time appearing troublesomes you all friend, but subject is so very important that i can not but ask not in my name but in the name of the Lord and humanity to do something for my Poor Wife and children who lays in Norfolk Jail and have Been there for three month i Would open myself in that frank and hones manner. Which should convince you of my cencerity of Purpoest don’t shut your ears to the cry’s of the Widow and the orphant & i can but ask in the name of humanity and God for he knows the heart of all men. Please ask the friends humanity to do something for her and her two lettle ones i cant do any thing Place as i am for i have to lay low Please lay this before the churches of Philadelphaise beg them in name of the Lord to do something for him i love my freedom and if it would do her and her two children any good i mean to change with her but cant be done for she is Jail and you most no she suffer for the jail in the South are not like yours for any thing is good enough for negros the Slave hunters Says & may God interpose in behalf of the demonstrative Race of Africa Whom i claim desendent i am sorry to say that friendship is only a name here but i truss it is not so in Philada i would not have taken this liberty had i not considered you a friend for you treaty as such Please do all you can and Please ask the Anti Slavery friends to do all they can and God will Reward them for it i am shure for the earth is the Lords and the fullness there of as this note leaves me not very well but hope when it comes to hand it may find you and family enjoying all the Pleasure life Please answer this and Pardon me if the necessary sum can be required i will find out from my brotherinlaw i am with respectful consideration.


Yesterday is the fust time i have heard from home Sence i left and i have not got any thing yet i have a tear yet for my fellow man and it is in my eyes now for God knows it is tha truth i sue for your Pity and all and may God open their hearts to Pity a poor Woman and two children. The Sum is i believe 14 hundred Dollars Please write to day for me and see if the cant do something for humanity.


SCHUYLKILL, 11th mo., 7th day, 1857.

WM. STILL:—Respected Friend—There are three colored friends at my house now, who will reach the city by the Phil. & Reading train this evening. Please meet them.

Thine, &c.,


We have within the past 2 mos. passed 43 through our hands, transported most of them to Norristown in our own conveyance. E.F.P.


HARRISBURG, March 24, ’56.

FRIEND STILL:—I suppose ere this you have seen those five large and three small packages I sent by way of Reading, consisting of three men and women and children. They arrived here this morning at 8-1/2 o’clock and left twenty minutes past three. You will please send me any information likely to prove interesting in relation to them.

Lately we have formed a Society here, called the Fugitive Aid Society. This is our first case, and I hope it will prove entirely successful.

When you write, please inform me what signs or symbols you make use of in your despatches, and any other information in relation to operations of the Underground Rail Road.

Our reason for sending by the Reading Road, was to gain time; it is expected the owners will be in town this afternoon, and by this Road we gained five hours’ time, which is a matter of much importance, and we may have occasion to use it sometimes in future. In great haste,

Yours with great respect,



RICHMOND, VA, Oct. 18th, 1860.

To MR. WILLIAM STILL:—Dear Sir—Please do me the favor as to write to my uncle a few lines in regard to the bundle that is for John H. Hill, who lives in Hamilton, C.W. Sir, if this should reach you, be assured that it comes from the same poor individual that you have heard of before; the person who was so unlucky, and deceived also. If you write, address your letter John M. Hill, care of Box No. 250. I am speaking of a person who lives in I hope, sir, you will understand this is from a poor individual.


MR. STILL:—My Dear Sir—I suppose you are somewhat uneasy because the goods did not come safe to hand on Monday evening, as you expected—consigned from Harrisburg to you. The train only was from Harrisburg to Reading, and as it happened, the goods had to stay all night with us, and as some excitement exists here about goods of the kind, we thought it expedient and wise to detain them until we could hear from you. There are two small boxes and two large ones; we have them all secure; what had better be done? Let us know. Also, as we can learn, there are three more boxes still in Harrisburg. Answer your communication at Harrisburg. Also, fail not to answer this by the return of mail, as things are rather critical, and you will oblige us.


Reading, May 27, ’57.

We knew not that these goods were to come, consequently we were all taken by surprise. When you answer, use the word, goods. The reason of the excitement, is: some three weeks ago a big box was consigned to us by J. Bustill, of Harrisburg. We received it, and forwarded it on to J. Jones, Elmira, and the next day they were on the fresh hunt of said box; it got safe to Elmira, as I have had a letter from Jones, and all is safe.




MR. STILL:—You will oblige me much Iff you will Direct this Letter to Vergenia for me to my Mother & iff it well sute you Beg her in my Letter to Direct hers to you & you Can send it to me iff it sute your Convenience. I am one of your Chattle.


Syracuse, Jeny 6th.

Direction—Matilda Tate Care of Dudley M Pattee Worrenton Farkiear County Verginia.


MY DEAR MOTHER:—I have imbrace an opportunity of writing you these few lines (hoping) that they may fine you as they Leave me quite well I will now inform you how I am geting I am now a free man Living By the sweet of my own Brow not serving a nother man & giving him all I Earn But what I make is mine and iff one Plase do not sute me I am at Liberty to Leave and go some where elce & can ashore you I think highly of Freedom and would not exchange it for nothing that is offered me for it I am waiting in a Hotel I supose you Remember when I was in Jail I told you the time would Be Better and you see that the time has come when I Leave you my heart was so full & yours But I new their was a Better Day a head, & I have Live to see it. I hird when I was on the Underground R. Road that the Hounds was on my Track but it was no go I new I was too far out of their Reach where they would never smell my track when I Leave you I was carred to Richmond & sold & From their I was taken to North Carolina & sold & I Ran a way & went Back to Virginna Between Richmond & home & their I was caught & Put in Jail & their I Remain till the oner come for me then I was taken & carred Back to Richmond then I was sold to the man who I now Leave he is nothing But a But of a Feller Remember me to your Husband & all in quirin Friends & say to Miss Rosa that I am as Free as she is & more happier I no I am getting $12 per month for what Little work I am Doing I hope to here from you a gain I your Son & ever By



WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 9th, 1856.

DEAR SIR:—I was unavoidably prevented yesterday, from replying to yours of 6th instant, and although I have made inquiries, I am unable to-day, to answer your questions satisfactorily. Although I know some of the residents of Loudon county, and have often visited there, still I have not practiced much in the Courts of that county. There are several of my acquaintances here, who have lived in that county, and possibly, through my assistance, your commissions might be executed. If a better way shall not suggest itself to you, and you see fit to give me the facts in the case, I can better judge of my ability to help you; but I know not the man resident there, whom I would trust with an important suit. I think it is now some four or five weeks since, that some packages left this vicinity, said to be from fifteen to twenty in number, and as I suppose, went through your hands. It was at a time of uncommon vigilance here, and to me it was a matter of extreme wonder, how and through whom, such a work was accomplished. Can you tell me? It is needful that I should know! Not for curiosity merely, but for the good of others. An enclosed slip contains the marks of one of the packages, which you will read and then immediately burn.

If you can give me any light that will benefit others, I am sure you will do so.

A traveler here, very reliable, and who knows his business, has determined not to leave home again till spring, at least not without extraordinary temptations.

I think, however, he or others, might be tempted to travel in Virginia.


WM. P.



WILLIAM STILL:—Dear Friend and Brother—A thousand thanks for your good, generous letter!

It was so kind of you to have in mind my intense interest and anxiety in the success and fate of poor Concklin! That he desired and intended to hazard an attempt of the kind, I well understood; but what particular one, or that he had actually embarked in the enterprise, I had not been able to learn.

His memory will ever be among the sacredly cherished with me. He certainly displayed more real disinterestedness, more earnest, unassuming devotedness, than those who claim to be the sincerest friends of the slave can often boast. What more Saviour-like than the willing sacrifice he has rendered!

Never shall I forget that night of our extremest peril (as we supposed), when he came and so heartily proffered his services at the hazard of his liberty, of life even, in behalf of William L. Chaplin.

Such generosity! at such a moment! The emotions it awakened no words can bespeak! They are to be sought but in the inner chambers of one’s own soul! He as earnestly devised the means, as calmly counted the cost, and as unshrinkingly turned him to the task, as if it were his own freedom he would have won.

Through his homely features, and humble garb, the intrepidity of soul came out in all its lustre! Heroism, in its native majesty, commanded one’s admiration and love!

Most truly can I enter into your sorrows, and painfully appreciate the pang of disappointment which must have followed this sad intelligence. But so inadequate are words to the consoling of such griefs, it were almost cruel to attempt to syllable one’s sympathies.

I cannot bear to believe, that Concklin has been actually murdered, and yet I hardly dare hope it is otherwise.

And the poor slaves, for whom he periled so much, into what depths of hopelessness and woe are they again plunged! But the deeper and blacker for the loss of their dearly sought and new-found freedom. How long must wrongs like these go unredressed? “How long, O God, how long?”

Very truly yours,



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