Levi Coffin, Underground Railroad President
*This date marks the birth of Levi Coffin in 1798. He was an American abolitionist and President
of the Underground Railroad.
Levi Coffin was from New Garden, North Carolina, and the only son of seven children. The young
Levi received the bulk of his education at home, which proved to be good enough for Coffin to find
work as a teacher for several years. In 1821, with his cousin Vestal, Levi Coffin ran a Sunday
school for Blacks. Alarmed slave owners, however, soon forced the school to close.
In 1824, Coffin decided to join his other family members who had moved to the young state of
Indiana. Establishing a store in Newport, Coffin prospered, expanding his operations to include
cutting pork and manufacturing linseed oil. Even with his busy life as a merchant, Coffin was
"never too busy to engage in Underground Railroad affairs." Also, his thriving business and
importance in the community helped deflect opposition to his Underground Railroad activities
from pro-slavery supporters and slave hunters in the area.
Questioned about why he aided slaves, Coffin said "The Bible, in bidding us to feed the hungry
and clothe the naked, said nothing about color, and I should try to follow out the teachings of
that good book." In 1847 Coffin left Newport to open a wholesale warehouse in Cincinnati that
handled cotton goods, sugar, and spices produced by free labor. The enterprise had been funded
a year earlier by a Quaker Convention at Salem, Indiana.
Coffin and his wife continued to help slaves via the Underground Railroad. Both during and after
the Civil War, Coffin served as a leading figure in the Western Freedmen's Aid Society. Working
for the freedmen's cause in England and Europe, Coffin, in one year, raised more than $100,000
for the Society. He died in September 1877 in Cincinnati and is buried in that city's Spring Grove
Levi Coffin was an important man before the Civil War and even after it. He and his family helped
more than 2,500 slaves escape to the north. He also raised $100,000 for the Western Freedmanís
Levi Coffin was born on a farm in New Garden, North Carolina on October 28, 1798. While he was
still little, he started to abolish slavery. He hated slavery and he wanted to help slaves. One day
when he was seven years old chopping wood beside the road with his father, a group of slaves
walked by with chains connecting them with handcuffs. Leviís father asked one of the slaves
why they were chained. The slave told him that their owners took them away from their wives
and children. It was that day when Coffin learned what slavery was all about. He thought of how
he would feel if his father was taken away from him.
When Coffin grew older, he helped several slaves to freedom. In 1818, he helped organize
Sabbath Schools, and after a year it was open. In 1826, Coffin and his family moved to Newport,
Indiana. In Newport, Coffin opened up a merchandise store. He and his children worked in the
store while his wife cooked and worked hard around the house. Coffin and his family stayed at
Newport for twenty years. During the twenty years, the Coffins were able to help more than 2,000
slaves escape to the north, and slave owners never caught them.
In 1847, Coffin moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. In Cincinnati, Coffin opened up a warehouse that
handled cotton goods, sugar, and spices made by free labor. During his time in Ohio, he helped
even more slaves escape to the north with the Underground Railroad.
After the Civil War, millions of slaves that were freed still didnít have homes, food, and education.
Then an organization that Coffin volunteered to help in called Western Freedmenís Aid Society,
helped slaves by giving them homes, clothing, food, education, and jobs. This organization
needed a lot of money to do that, so Coffin went to England and other parts of Europe and raised
more than $100,000. In 1867, he was honored by serving as a representative to the International
Anti-Slavery Conference in Paris. When he was 76 years old, Coffin died. Levi Coffin was an
amazing person to the end.
The Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, and Levi Coffin were all very important to the slaves
in the south. They all helped slaves escape to the north on the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad was a system to help free slaves from the south and escape to the
North or Canada. It began at the end of the 18th century. The Underground Railroad wasnít
underground and it wasnít a railroad. It was made up of houses and buildings all the way to the
north. The Underground Railroad was built by thousands of people. This system helped get
hundreds of slaves to the north every year because it made secret routes and hideouts for the
escaping slaves. Overall, the Underground Railroad helped free about 100,000 slaves from the
south from 1810 to 1850.
For the slaves, running away to the north through the Underground Railroad was very hard. It
was hard because southerners kept an eye out for the slaves. The first step for the slaves was
to escape from their owners. The slaves had to take all their belongings and their children and
would escape at night. The slaves would travel 10 or 20 miles to the next station. A station was
place for the slaves to rest and eat. They got to the stations by following the station ownerís
directions. While they waited, a message would be sent to the next station to alert its station
owner that the slaves were on their way, so the station owner would start getting the food and
The slaves would also travel by train or by boat, which sometimes had to be paid for. Money was
also needed improve and rebuild some parts of the Underground Railroad such as the stationsí
walls and flooring.
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