William Webb was a fervent abolitionist. He escaped slavery by leaving the vicinity of his owner while they were both traveling and then posing among prisoners. Webb was a very personable man and his easy manner with others made his escape and subsequent life possible.
Webb worked to establish a line of communication between Mississippi and the north. Through this communication network, he was able to transmit news to slaves throughout the South.
Webb held a variety of jobs in different Midwestern cities, ultimately settling in Detroit.
Webb served as an officer of the National Emigration Conference where members passed a resolution pertaining to equal rights and a denial of enslavement. He also served as an officer of the Refugee Home Society, a network of the Underground Railroad that was bringing fugitive freedom seekers north.
He hosted a meeting on March 12, 1859 with two of the nation’s most important abolitionists Frederick Douglas – abolitionist leader orator, writer, activist – and John Brown – white abolitionist minister and revolutionary. The intent of the meeting was to discuss ways to bring an end to slavery with like-minded men in Detroit. A Michigan Historical Marker marks the spot of the home at Congress and St. Antoine in Detroit. Webb’s home served as a regular location for political meetings and as a station on the Underground Railroad.
Webb died in 1868 and is buried in Section P, Lot 25.
This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), funded by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASALH or the Department of the Interior. Elmwood Cemetery’s Network to Freedom Application was completed by Carol Mull and Gabrielle Lucci. This biography was completed based upon the Application and records available through Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit Historical Society, Burton Historical Library, Military Records of the United States, Michigan Historical Center, and various information sources.