"ONE OF THE BEST ACCOUNTS OF HOW RUNAWAY SLAVES MADE THEIR WAY TO FREEDOM": FIRST EDITION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN WILLIAM STILL'S MONUMENTAL UNDERGROUND RAIL ROAD, 1872, WITH FRONTISPIECE AND NUMEROUS ENGRAVED ILLUSTRATIONS
STILL, William. The Underground Rail Road. A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c., Narrating the Hardships Hair-breadth Escapes and Death Struggles of the Slaves in their Efforts for Freedom as Related by Themselves and Others, or Witnessed by the Author; Together with Sketches of the Largest Stockholders, and Most Liberal Aiders and Advisers of the Road. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872. Thick octavo, original gilt-stamped russet cloth rebacked with original spine laid down. $3500.
First edition of the first definitive and groundbreaking history of the Underground Railroad—"the only work on that subject written by an African American"—with engraved frontispiece portrait of William Still, famed as father of the Underground Railroad, profusely illustrated with 23 full-page and numerous in-text engravings, in gilt-stamped original cloth boards.
The history of the Underground Railroad "is an epic of high drama… one of the most ambitious political undertakings in American history" (Bordewich, Bound for Canaan, 4). In that history, African American abolitionist William Still stands out as "the 19th-century's foremost chronicler" (Piloski & Williams, 1013). Heralded as the father of the Underground Railroad, he was born in New Jersey to a fugitive slave mother and an enslaved father who bought his freedom. Still ran the Philadelphia headquarters of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and was its "key operative in assisting fugitives, sometimes hiding them in his own home." His Underground Railroad is "a treasure trove of information… the most detailed record now extant" (Foner, Gateway to Freedom, 151-52, 12).
This monumental work "illustrates the inventiveness of runaways, the desperate struggles of enslaved families, and the network of abolitionists" stretching all the way to Canada (Sinha, Slave's Cause
, 536). "Underground Railroad
is one of the best accounts of how runaway slaves made their way to freedom… The only work on that subject by an African American, it was also the only day-by-day record of the working of a vigilance committee. While Still gave credit to 'the grand little army of abolitionists,' he put the spotlight on the fugitives themselves, saying 'the race had no more eloquent advocates than its own self-emancipated champions.' Besides recording their courageous deeds, Still hoped that the book would demonstrate the intellectual ability of his race. Along with the records of slave escapes he included excerpts from newspapers, legal documents, correspondence of abolitionists and former slaves, and some biographical sketches" (ANB). First edition: "Sold Only By Subscription" on title page. Containing engraved frontispiece with facsimile signature below Still's portrait, 23 full-page and numerous in-text engravings (with publisher's estimate of "70" on title page including engraved figures not in the list of illustrations). Gilt-stamped "Under Ground Railroad" issued in beveled cloth (this copy); along with gilt-stamped "U.G.R.R." in russet cloth and green cloth: no priority established. Work, 338. Blockson 10178-1079.
Interior generally fresh with trace of scattered foxing; light edge-wear to early leaves expertly repaired, expert restoration to bright gilt-stamped original cloth. A handsome near-fine copy.