Dr. James Still was born in 1812 in Indian Mills, New Jersey to Levin and Charity Still (originally Levin and Sidney Steel), two former enslaved Africans from the state of Maryland. He received only 3 months of formal education. For most of his life, beginning at the age of 8 or 9 and into his late twenties, Still worked as a day laborer, chopping wood, making charcoal, picking berries and “grubbing” – digging up roots and trees to clear land. Born into poverty and mostly self-educated, Dr. Still became one of the wealthiest men in Burlington County of his time. He prospered through his own industry and gave much of the credit to Providence. After his marriage to his first wife, Angelina Willow, and the birth of their first child, Beulah, in 1836, Still bought a small piece of brush land for $100 near the Cross-Roads, and moved a partially built house to this land. In 1843, at the age of 31 years and determined to do something better, he purchased a still and began distilling roots and herbs.
Dr. Still was so moved to purchase two books on medical botany on one of his trips to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and began practicing medicine somewhat by accident, agreeing to treat a sick man in exchange for some sassafras. Slowly, he found that he was distilling less and healing more. About 1845, Dr. Still stopped distilling and focused entirely on his medical practice.
His first wife, Angelina, would die in 1838. Dr. Still found himself alone caring for a sickly newborn child. He married a second time in 1839 to Henrietta Thomas. Unfortunately, death struck his family again with his first born passing the same year. He and his second wife, Henrietta, would later have 7 children. They experienced poverty and prejudice, but persevered with faith, modesty and frugality.
His practice began to flourish and in 1855, he built his office and his first home. Then 1869, he had a new house constructed with all the modern day amenities of its time. It was a substantial, 3-story, mansard-roofed, Victorian style house.
He died in 1882 and was buried in Colemantown Cemetery located behind Jacob's Chapel AME in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.
Unfortunately, his home was torn down in 1932. His office building remains, however, it would be used as a residence until 2006. In 2006 with encouragement from his descendants, the State of New Jersey purchased the property for the intent of restoring.
There is much more about Dr. James Still; much of it was written in his autobiography Early Recollections and Life of Dr. James Still published in 1877. It is a must read for those who are interested in the story of such a remarkable man.