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 singer, actor, and political activist Paul Robeson.[1]

His paternal grandparents had been free: his grandfather gained his freedom from slavery as a young man in the 1750s, and his grandmother Elizabeth Morrey was of English-Lenape descent and always free, resulting in her children being born free.

Early life and education[edit]

Charles was born in 1816 in Philadelphia to David Bustill (1787-1866) and Mary Hicks. He had two younger brothers: James M. Bustill (1820-after 1880), who married Lydia A. X (1824-?); and Joseph Cassey Bustill (1822-1895), who also became a conductor in the Underground Railroad. Bustill learned the trade of plasterer and had a successful business.

Family history[edit]

Paternal grandparents[edit]

His father David Bustill was born free as the mixed-race son of Elizabeth Morrey (1745-1827) and Cyrus Bustill (1732-1806) (born in Springfield Township, Burlington County, New Jersey). He was of Anglo-American, African and Lenape ancestry. His parents married on August 6, 1773 in Christ Church, Philadelphia. As his mother was of English-Lenape ancestry, she was free, and her children were born free, according to the principle of partus sequitur ventrem, used in slavery law. His father Cyrus gained his freedom from slavery from service to his last master.


Cyrus Bustill was born into slavery. He was the mixed-race child of an enslaved woman and Samuel Bustill, a white lawyer who became active in colonial politics and was a "clerk to the council". Samuel Bustill later married Grace Gardiner and had additional children with her. Cyrus Bustill gained freedom from a master who rewarded him for several years of service. He moved into Philadelphia, where he was a baker. In 1787 he was one of the founders of the Free African Society, the first black mutual aid society.

Elizabeth Morrey was also mixed-race, the daughter of Satterthwait, a Lenape woman, and Richard Morrey, an English immigrant.


Charles Bustill married Emily Robinson (d. before 1870) and they had the following children:

By 1870, Charles Bustill was a widower supporting his two children.


Bustill was active as an abolitionist. He served as a conductor in the resistance movement of the Underground Railroad during the antebellum years. As Philadelphia was a port, escaped slaves sometimes made their way by ship to the city, and anti-slavery supporters helped them go further north or settle in the region.

He worked as a plasterer in Philadelphia.


  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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