This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” by William Still documents the escape of two brothers in the oyster boat of their owners.
The brothers had to leave their wives behind when they fled in August of 1855. Anthony Brown writes twice from Canada to William Still to enquire about their wives.
The first letter would break your heart. The second will mend it.
About The Book
“The Underground Railroad” was published in 1872. The book gives the testimonies of hundreds of slaves who escaped to freedom using the network of agents and safe houses.
The author, William Still, was a black abolitionist and businessman who was a key member of the Philadelphia stop in the freedom network.
The book is in the public domain. It can be found in the Library of Congress.
Any headings and italicized text in the excerpt below were added by the website editor. The rest is nearly verbatim from the book. There are some changes to the punctuation.
Excerpt – Arrival No. 11. Anthony and Albert Brown (brothers), Jones Anderson and Isaiah
This party escaped from Tanner’s Creek, Norfolk, Virginia, where they had been owned by John and Henry Holland, oystermen.
As slaves they alleged that they had been subjected to very brutal treatment from their profane and ill-natured owners.
Not relishing this treatment, Albert and Anthony came to the conclusion that they understood boating well enough to escape by water.
They accordingly selected one of their master’s small oyster-boats, which was pretty-well rigged with sails, and off they started for a Northern Shore.
They proceeded on a part of their voyage merely by guess work, but landed safely, however, about twenty-five miles north of Baltimore, though, by no means, on free soil.
They had no knowledge of the danger that they were then in, but they were persevering, and still determined to make their way North, and thus, at last, success attended their efforts.
The elder brother was twenty-nine, the younger twenty-seven. Both were mentally above the average run of slaves.
They left wives in Norfolk, named Alexenia and Ellen. While Anthony and Albert, in seeking their freedom, were forced to sever their connections with their companions, they did not forget them in Canada.
How great was their delight in freedom, and tender their regard for their wives, and the deep interest they felt for their brethren and friends generally, may be seen from a perusal of the following letters from them:
First Letter From Anthony Brown To William Still
[I have extensively edited the spelling of the letter below for clarity, but not the words].
HAMILTON, March 7th 1856.
MR. WM. STILL—Sir—
I now take the opportunity of writing you a few lines hoping to find yourself and family well as these lines leaves me at present, myself and brother, Anthony & Albert Brown’s respects.
We have spent quite agreeable winter, we were employed in the new hotel, name Anglo American, where we wintered and done very well.
We also met with our two friends who came from home with us, Jonas Anderson and Isaiah.
Now we are all safe in Hamilton, I wish to call you to your promise, if convenient to write to Norfolk, Va, for me, and let my wife Mary Ellen Brown know where I am, and my brother’s wife Elickzener Brown, as we have never heard a word from them since we left.
Tell them that we found our homes and situation in Canada much better than we expected.
Tell them not to think hard of us, we were bound to flee from the wrath to come.
Tell them we live in the hopes of meeting them once more this side of the grave.
Tell them if we never more see them, we hope to meet them in the Kingdom of Heaven in peace.
Tell them to remember my love to my church and brethren.
Tell them I find there is the same prayer-hearing God hear as there is in old Va.
Tell them to remember our love to all the inquiring friends.
I have written several times but have never received no answer. I find a great many of my old acquaintances from Va, here, we are no ways lonesome.
Mr. Still, I have written to you once before, but receive no answer. Please let us hear from you by any means.
Nothing more at present, but remain your friends,ANTHONY & ALBERT BROWN.
Second Letter From The Browns To William Still
HAMILTON June 26th, 1856,
MR. WM. STILL: Kind Sir:
I am happy to say to you that I have just received my letter dated 5 of the present month, but previously had been informed last night by Mr. J.H. Hall that he had just received a letter from you stating that my wife was with you.
Oh my, I was so glad it caused me to shed tears.
Mr. Still, I cannot return you the thanks for the care of my wife, for I am so Glad that I don’t know what to say. You will please start her for Canada.
I am yet in Hamilton, C.W., at the city hotel.
My brother and Joseph Anderson is at the Anglo American hotel, they send their respects to you and family myself also, and a greater part to my wife.
I came by the way of Syracruse. Remember me to Mrs. logins.
Tell her to write back to my brother’s wife if she is living and tell her to come on. Tell her to send Joseph Andersons love to his mother.
I now send her 10 Dollars and would send more but being out of employment some of winter it pulls me back. You will be so kind as to forward her on to me, and if life last I will satisfy you at some time, before long.
Give my respects and brother’s to Mr. John Dennes. Tell him Mr. Hill’s family is well and send their love to them.
I now bring my letter to a close, and am your most humble Servant,
P.S. I had given out the notion of ever seeing my wife again, so I have not been attending the office, but am truly sorry I did not.
You mention in yours of Mr. Henry Lewey, he has left this city for Boston about 2 weeks ago, we have not heard from him yet.