Escape From An Ex-President’s Brother – Underground Railroad

This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” by William Still documents the escape of a fugitive from the ownership of Walter Tyler, a brother of a former President of the United States.

This is the second account in the book where the Tyler family appears. We also have an excerpt on how President John Tyler’s household also lost a fugitive to the Underground Railroad.

The fugitive in this article is William Taylor. He doesn’t hold back on his opinion on his former master.

[Any headings and italicized text in the excerpt below were added by the website editor. The rest is verbatim from the book apart from some changes to the punctuation]

William Taylor’s Account Of Walter Tyler

William unquestionably possessed a fair share of common sense, and just enough distaste to Slavery to arouse him most resolutely to seek his freedom.

William acknowledged that he was the property of Walter H. Tyler, brother of ex-President Tyler, who was described as follows:

“He (master) was about sixty-five years of age; was a barbarous man, very intemperate, horse racer, chicken-cock fighter and gambler. He had owned as high as forty head of slaves, but he had gambled them all away.

He was a doctor, circulated high amongst southerners, though he never lived agreeably with his wife, would curse her and call her all kinds of names that he should not call a lady.

From a boy of nine up to the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I don’t reckon he whipped me less than a hundred times. He shot at me once with a double-barrelled gun.

“What made me leave was because I worked for him all my life-time and he never gave me but two dollars and fifteen cents in all his life.

I was hired out this year for two hundred dollars, but when I would go to him to make complaints of hard treatment from the man I was hired to, he would say: “G——d d——n it, don’t come to me, all I want is my money.”

“Mr. Tyler was a thin raw-boned man, with a long nose, the picture of the president.

His wife was a tolerably well-disposed woman in some instances—she was a tall, thin-visaged woman, and stood high in the community.

Through her I fell into the hands of Tyler. At present she owns about fifty slaves.

His own slaves, spoken of as having been gambled away, came by his father—he has been married the second time.”

Sale And Resale

Twice William had been sold and bought in, on account of his master’s creditors, and for many months had been expecting to be sold again, to meet pressing claims in the hands of the sheriff against Tyler.

He, by the way, “now lives in Hanover county, about eighteen miles from Richmond, and for fear of the sheriff, makes himself very scarce in that city.” (I was confused by this sentence until I realized that William is referring to Walter Tyler being afraid of the sheriff).

At fourteen years of age, William was sold for eight hundred dollars; he would have brought in 1857, probably twelve hundred and fifty dollars.

He was a member of the Baptist Church in good and regular standing.

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.