This excerpt from “The Underground Railroad” documents the escape of Hezekiah Hill from the back of a shop as a slave trader was walking in the front to take him.
Hezekiah was forced to hide for thirteen months before he could travel by steamship to Philadelphia.
“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.
Excerpt – The Escape Of Hezekiah Hill
Impelled by the love of freedom Hezekiah resolved
- that he would work no longer for nothing;
- that he would never be sold on the auction block:
- that he no longer would obey the bidding of a master,
- and that he would die rather than be a slave.
This decision, however, had only been entertained by him a short time prior to his escape.
For a number of years Hezekiah had been laboring under the pleasing thought that he should succeed in obtaining freedom through purchase, having had an understanding with his owner with this object in view.
At different times he had paid on account for himself nineteen hundred dollars, six hundred dollars more than he was to have paid according to the first agreement.
Although so shamefully defrauded in the first instance, he concluded to bear the disappointment as patiently as possible and get out of the lion’s mouth as best he could.
He continued to work on and save his money until he had actually come within one hundred dollars of paying two thousand.
At this point instead of getting his free papers, as he firmly believed that he should, to his surprise one day he saw a notorious trader approaching the shop where he was at work. The errand of the trader was soon made known.
Hezekiah simply requested time to go back to the other end of the shop to get his coat, which he seized and ran.
He was pursued but not captured. This occurrence took place in Petersburg, Va., about the first of December, 1854.
On the night of the same day of his escape from the trader, Hezekiah walked to Richmond and was there secreted under a floor by a friend.
He was a tall man, of powerful muscular strength, about thirty years of age just in the prime of his manhood with enough pluck for two men.
Thirteen Months In Hiding
A heavy reward was offered for him, but the hunters failed to find him in this hiding-place under the floor.
He strongly hoped to get away soon; on several occasions he made efforts, but only to be disappointed. At different times at least two captains had consented to afford him a private passage to Philadelphia, but like the impotent man at the pool, some one always got ahead of him.
Two or three times he even managed to reach the boat upon the river, but had to return to his horrible place under the floor.
Some were under the impression that he was an exceedingly unlucky man, and for a time captains feared to bring him. But his courage sustained him unwaveringly.
Freedom At Last
Finally at the expiration of thirteen months, a private passage was procured for him on the steamship Pennsylvania, and with a little slave boy, seven years of age, (the son of the man who had secreted him) though placed in a very hard berth, he came safely to Philadelphia, greatly to the astonishment of the Vigilance Committee, who had waited for him so long that they had despaired of his ever coming.
The joy that filled Hezekiah’s bosom may be imagined but never described. None but one who had been in similar straits could enter into his feelings.
He had left his wife Louisa, and two little boys, Henry and Manuel. His passage cost one hundred dollars.
Hezekiah being a noted character, a number of the true friends were invited to take him by the hand and to rejoice with him over his noble struggles and his triumph; needing rest and recruiting, he was made welcome to stay, at the expense of the committee, as long as he might feel disposed so to do.
He remained several days, and then went on to Canada rejoicing.
After arriving there he returned his acknowledgment for favors received, &c., in the following letter:
Letter From Hezekiah Hill (spelling unchanged)
TORONTO Jan 24th 1856.
MR. STILL:—this is to inform you that Myself and little boy, arrived safely in this city this day the 24th, at ten o’clock after a very long and pleasant trip. I had a great deal of attention paid to me while on the way.
I owes a great deel of thanks to yourself and friends. I will just say hare that when I arrived at New York, I found Mr. Gibbs sick and could not be attended to there. However, I have arrived alright.
You will please to give my respects to your friend that writes in the office with you, and to Mr Smith, also Mr Brown, and the friends, Mrs Still in particular.
Friend Still you will please to send the enclosed to John Hill Petersburg I want him to send some things to me you will be so kind as to send your direction to them, so that the things to your care.
If you do not see a convenient way to send it by hands, you will please direct your letter to Phillip Ubank Petersburg.
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More About Hezekiah Hill And His Nephews
In William Still’s book, the section on Hezekiah Hill is preceded by an account of the escape of John Henry Hill, Hezekiah’s nephew. We have reproduced an excerpt at that link.
The section after Hezekiah gives a brief account of the escape of John Henry’s younger brother after three years in hiding. That section ends with a summary of where the three men were living when the book was published (nearly two decades later).
Hezekiah was living at West Point. His nephew James was in Boston and John Henry had returned to Petersburg, Virginia, where he was a Justice of the Peace.
The Underground Railroad by William Still was published in 1872.
The book is in the public domain. It can be found in the Library of Congress.
Names In History
Our website tracks the black history of many names. Check out our article on Hill as an African American surname.