Charles Hicks Bustill

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Charles Hicks Bustill (1816-1890) was an African-American abolitionist and conductor in the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia before the American Civil War. He made a living as a plasterer, and belonged to the black bourgeoisie of the city. He was the grandfather of Paul Robeson.[1]


Paternal grandparents[edit]

His father David Bustill was born free as the son of Elizabeth Morrey (1745-1827) and Cyrus Bustill (1732-1806). He was of mixed race: with Anglo-American, African and Lenape ancestry. His parents married on August 6, 1773 in Christ Church, Philadelphia. His grandmother Elizabeth Morrey was of mixed-race, born to Satterthwait, a Lenape woman, and Richard Morrey, an English immigrant. Indian slavery had ended, so she was born free. Her children were thus also born free, according to partus sequitur ventrem and the laws of the colonies, by which children took the social status of their mothers. Cyrus Bustill, born in Springfield Township, Burlington County, New Jersey, gained his freedom from slavery in the 1750s from service to his last master. Pennsylvania ended all slavery in the state after the American Revolutionary War.


Cyrus Bustill was born into slavery. He was the mixed-race child of Grace Gardiner, an enslaved woman, and Samuel Bustill, a white lawyer who became active in colonial politics and was a "clerk to the council". Samuel later freed Grace and married her, having additional children with her. Cyrus Bustill gained freedom as a young man in the 1750s from a master who rewarded him for several years of service.

He moved to the city of Philadelphia, where he worked as a baker. The city had a growing community of free blacks who organized civil and religious groups. In 1787 Bustill was one of the founders of the Free African Society, the first black mutual aid society. Other members of the group founded St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the first black Episcopal church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first independent black denomination in the nation.


  1. ^ Lloyd Louis Brown (1997). The Young Paul Robeson: On My Journey Now. p. 152. ... Charles Hicks Bustill — Paul Robeson's grandfather. Charles, who was born in 1816, and his older brother, James Mapps Bustill, became partners as plastering contractors with ... 

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