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The Underground Railroad Records: Narrating the Hardships, Hairbreadth Escapes, and Death Struggles of Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  715 ratings  ·  66 reviews
A riveting collection of the hardships, hairbreadth escapes, and mortal struggles of enslaved people seeking freedom: These are the true stories of the Underground Railroad.

Featuring a powerful introduction by Ta-Nehisi Coates

As a conductor for the Underground Railroad—the covert resistance network created to aid and protect slaves seeking freedom—William Still helped as
Kindle Edition, 354 pages
Published September 24th 2019 by Modern Library (first published June 1872)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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 ·  715 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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Start your review of The Underground Railroad Records: Narrating the Hardships, Hairbreadth Escapes, and Death Struggles of Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom
Betsy Robinson
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Imagine it’s you: You are kidnapped from your family, stripped naked, shipped like cargo, body stacked on body, in the hold of a ship. If you survive, this transport is followed by being “owned” and worked by other people. Some of the “owners” claim you’re not human; others say, “Gee, I’d like to let you go, but I’m too poor and my dead husband left me only you.” Or “When you get old enough, you can be free.” Or “You can buy yourself for $500.” So on some level they know you’re a person just lik ...more
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, non_fiction
William Still interviewed all the people he helped to free from slavery via the Underground Railroad. His records together with letters and legal texts are presented here in this collection. I must admit I couldn't concentrate on the legal texts - prose born in hell - but the rest gave a vivid and varied insight into the multitude of different fates and battles those courageous souls had to fight to get their freedom in a supposedly free country.

Still commands a very agreeable prose. The texts a
Feb 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A powerful and highly educational collection of authentic correspondence from around events of the Undercover Railroad.

What feels like it should be most treasured about this book are the various unfiltered messages from the contemporaries themselves, both the slaves and their allies alike. Some strictly formal, some heartfelt - almost poetic; all unedited to preserve their original language, character and urgency.

While there are also some perhaps more banal appearing trade records and passenger
Andrew Anderson
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This begs one simple question; and we were the ones considered savages and in need of saving? Wow! Thanks to those who assisted us in seeking the freedom that God intended for all men, regardless of race. Still applicable today.
Kerry Kenney
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
If you plan to read the Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, read this first. If you wonder about race relations in America, read this. It's amazing. Before I read this book, slavery was something I understood in my head as wrong, against God, a crime. After I read this book, I knew in my heart that slavery was all those things and more. ...more
Feb 10, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-book
This book is FREE on kindle right now
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was very glad to make an acquaintance with this huge collection of slave escape narratives, in first-hand accounts. It's not an easy read. It took me a concentrated couple of hours just to figure out how it is organized. And the sheer number of human stories is overwhelming!

William Still was an excellent writer for his time and a very literate writer for any time. That said, his sentence structure is in the formal Victorian style that makes reading George Eliot or Henry James challenging.

Joseph Rizzo
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These real stories, written in both narrative and letter form, are heartbreaking. It is a real picture into our very dark past. This gives you a view of the harsh realities some men imposed upon millions of others for so long. The desperation and deprivation of liberty led to some brave ones to seek out the dangerous path of freedom. Sometimes this meant days, weeks, and months in isolation and difficult wilderness, being hunted like an animal. It was also under the promise of severe punishment, ...more
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Profound source material for the operation of the Underground Railroad, especially through Philadelphia. William Still was on the Vigilance Committee in that city and welcomed many of those escaping slavery. From each arrival he took a brief account of their adventures on The Road, as well as their hardship under slavery.

Still's writing makes use of the abolitionist rhetoric of his day with such phrases as "the no-pay system" and "seeker of Freedom". The language can be challenging because it i
Feb 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My homeschooled daughter is interested in the Underground Railroad, so we checked this book out of the public library to use for "real life" discussions. The letters and stories are so fascinating, and so sad, at times. What bravery extended for the welfare of another soul! ...more
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
William Still's collection is excellent primary source material about an important part of American history, the massive effort of thousands of people to help fugitive slaves gain the freedom they were denied by law. ...more
Oct 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First Hand Accounts - excellent reading.
Dec 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent history of the Underground Railroad, with details of slaves' escapes. ...more
Peter Michael
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This 1972 book, still in print, contains a large portion of all known first-hand accounts of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and is invaluable in research.
RA Ratterman
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read for personal research - found this book's contents helpful and inspiring.
A good book for the researcher and enthusiast.
Lance Kuhn
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a different sort of book for me. It's not an exciting read; it's not something that "I just couldn't put down." On the other hand, I felt compelled to finish it, to see these people through their pain, misery and triumph. The people who took advantage of the Underground Railroad knew, though they had never experienced it, that freedom was the only way to be truly alive. And they did desperate, often incredible things to reach this freedom. It was amazing, many times over, what they were ...more
Leah Unger
Apr 18, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting enough, but finally just wanted the book to end. Most of the stories were the same , so once you had read half, you have read it all. Would like to have seen it more in story form. However, it is a record; and therefore, It probably would work well as a reference book.
Kate Mundie
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting account of the Underground railroad. I live in Philadelphia and it was neat to read about the city at that time. The accounts in the words of the survivors of enslavement was very powerful.
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Understanding that this is not the complete work, it's accesiblity may drive more to dive deeper. Such an important work - emotionally wrenching, forcing us to come face to face with an ugly reality and the people that risked it all to find freedom. ...more
Feb 08, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting and important "history" of the years that led up to, and through, the Civil War in the USA, fragmented though the history is, as set forth in short notes and letters. A great variety of feelings and impressions are available through the eyes of those who experienced the struggles -- but a bit tedious to read because of the fragmentation and random assortment. ...more
Sarah Crawford
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This is a rather long but still very interesting book. It centers on a Vigilance Committee in Philadelphia and what they did to help slaves escape from the South. (A source I read said about 100,000 slaves eventaully escaped from the South but that's out of around 4 million that were there in the first place.)

The book consists of basic information and very specific information related to specific slaves that escaped and came through the committee's work. Some of the major points in the book incl
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First published in 1872, the 2007 edition I read is a selection of first hand interviews Mr. Still conducted with escaped slaves as they arrived in Philadelphia between 1850 and 1860. Many of the stories are augmented by newspaper accounts. There are also trial transcripts and accounts of the heroic actions by members of the Under Ground Rail Road and a copy of the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850 and the Organization of the Vigilance Committee. One aspect I missed was an overall picture of the struc ...more
Jeni  Kirby
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-books
This book is a compilation of letters, interviews, and other primary sources of Underground Railroad conductors, abolitionist, and fugitive slaves. Here, American slavery is brought to life. These accounts give testament of how slaves were treated, why they chose to runaway, and how they make there way up North. Furthermore, the conductors tell their stories of how they aided the fugitive slaves, the risk that they took in doing so, and how they fought day and night to rid the nation of oppressi ...more
Samuel L
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book sheds light on aspects of the underground railroad that I’ve never learned in school or anywhere. What’s unique about this work is that it provides primary sources, For example, letters and correspondence written between the runaway slaves and their conductors, and even to their former slave owners. Some of the stories that I read were very compelling and fantastic. These black bonds men and women were very clever and creative in the ways they secured their freedom. I do have to cautio ...more
Jamie Casey
After a hurricane shortened our vacation at the beach, we went on a little side trip and experienced first hand the lands and marshes and waters navigated by Freedom Seekers. Although some travelled even further from the South our tour only began in Cambridge, Maryland. What an amazing experience coupled with materials we found at the Cambridge Welcome Center, an audio tour and then to read these real life accounts of so many brave and undaunted souls. How cruel humans can be to their own kind n ...more
Frank Kohl
The title says it all... The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts! This book is a compilation of actual letters and firsthand stories of escaping slaves and those who facilitated their efforts to escape the "peculiar institution" in the 1800's. The book was difficult to read in that the letters are presented exactly as originally written including poor spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalization, as well as the sentence structure and phraseology in use in 19th ...more
Kim  Dennis
For the most part, this was a really interesting book. There was part with the Fugitive Slave Act that was largely legal-ese, and I tuned out. The stories about the slaves escaping were fascinating. There were a couple of places where it seemed like William Still assumed I had information I didn't have. (Someone from the 1870s might have...) I also wish he would have included more details about HOW they escaped. That may be something that wouldn't have excited people back then, or maybe they jus ...more
Nancy Fredenburgh
Having been born in a state which was prominent on the Underground Railroad , this book brought the sites I had been in even closer to the troubles these slaves suffered. The author of this book, William Still, was born of slave parents and suffered being taken from his family. In later years he became active on the underground railroad and began collecting letters and notes from slaves who were trying to escape to the north.Interesting book giving more insight into the importance of the system.
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(extensive!) Notes written by a member of the Vigilance Committee as he welcomed each runaway slave to Philadelphia and sent them on to Canada. Much more effective than all the fiction I've read about slavery in communicating the absolute inhumanity of this period. But also, heart-warming to read about the people, mostly white, who put themselves in danger to help runaways.' Always look for the people helping '. ...more
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most of us have learned about slavery and the Underground Railroad via some history class, but gathering the real life experiences through this book have really offered a better perspective of the lives of those who were intertwined with slavery and the Underground Railroad. I gave this book 5 stars because of the authenticity and the importance of the light being shed on this bleak time in history. In my opinion it was well written, and interesting.
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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 Philadelp

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