Moment of Indiana History

Levi Coffin

Born in North Carolina in 1798, Levi Coffin observed first-hand the institution of slavery. His strong hatred for oppression and injustice was further bolstered when as a young man he saw a group of slaves chained together as he and his father chopped wood by the roadside. In 1826, Coffin moved with his family to Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana, where he became a successful merchant and miller. He was one of the first merchants not to sell goods produced by slave labor.

In a span of twenty years, Levi and his wife Catharine assisted over 2,000 slaves as they made their way to freedom in the north and Canada. Levi Coffin’s efforts won him the title of “President of the Underground Railroad,” and his simple eight-room home in Wayne County was known as “Grand Central Station.” One of the slaves he helped to free was immortalized in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the character Eliza, and the Coffins are supposedly depicted as abolitionists Simeon and Rachel Halliday.

Levi Coffin moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1847 to open a wholesale warehouse with goods produced by free labor. A leading figure in the Western Freedman’s Aid Society, he raised funds for the education and support of former slaves, and in 1867 he served as a delegate to the International Anti-Slavery Conference in Paris. Through his abolitionist efforts in Indiana and Ohio, Levi Coffin helped to secure the freedom of more than 3,000 slaves by the time of his death in 1877.

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