About Levi Coffin, Jr.
Levi Coffin (1798 – 1877) was an American Quaker, abolitionist, and businessman. It is believed that Coffin and his wife Catharine helped more than 2,000 fugitive slaves escape to freedom, using their home as a principal depot.
Once questioned about why he aided slaves, Coffin said, "I thought it was always safe to do right."
Coffin was born near New Garden in Guilford County, North Carolina on October 28, 1798, the son of Mary and Levi Coffin Sr. He died on September 16, 1877 at around 2:30pm in his Avondale, Ohio home. His funeral ceremony was held in the Friends Meeting House of Cincinnati. The Daily Gazette recorded that the crowd was too large to be accommodated and hundreds had to remain outside.
He was interred in the Spring Grove Cemetery in an unmarked grave. On July 11, 1902, African Americans in Cincinnati erected a 6 feet (1.8 m) tall monument over Coffin's grave in his honor.
On October 28, 1824, Coffin married long-time friend Catherine White, the sister of his brother-in-law. The ceremony was held in the Hopewell Friends Meetinghouse in North Carolina.
Children of Catherine White and Levi Coffin:
1. Jesse Coffin (1825 – 1899)
2. Addison Coffin (1828 – 1830)
3. Thomas F Coffin (1831 – 1832)
4. Henry W Coffin (1836 – 1916)
5. Anna U Coffin (1839 – 1850)
6. Sara Emeline Coffin (1843 – 1868)
n.b. Levi Coffin and his wife are depicted in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s "Uncle Tom’s Cabin."
This date marks the birth of Levi Coffin in 1798. He was an American abolitionist and president of the Underground Railroad.
Levi Coffin, from New Garden, N.C., was the only son among 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.
The Quakers long before the Civil War urged consumers not to buy goods produced with slave labor. In their convention at Salem, Indiana, they funded Coffin and he was able to open a wholesale warehouse in Cincinnati that handled only cotton goods, sugar and spices produced by free labor. He became president of "The Underground Railroad'.
After heading the organization for over thirty years, with the war over and adoption of the fifteenth amendment, Coffin resigned and the organization no longer needed, simply faded away. Levi turned his attention to the "Western Freedmen's Aid Society", which helped educate and provide basic living needs for former slaves.
Coffin was the main fund raiser and journeyed to Europe on successful money raising trips in one year alone, he raised over $100,000 dollars.
He died in Avondale, Ohio of a heart attack as he neared 80 years of age and was buried beside his wife in historic Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. Crowds of colored people came to his Quaker funeral to say farewell. All of the slaves he and his wife aided reached freedom.
Quaker graves are usually unmarked. The Coffin marker is a monument six feet high. Ex-slaves received permission to erect this marker and raised the money. The inscription, "Aiding thousands to gain freedom, a tribute from the colored people of Cincinnati".
The Coffin house located in Fountain City, Indiana, is today owned by the State of Indiana. The house was restored and is now open to the public and has the designation as a National Historic Landmark. The home's fireplaces, floors, doors, and most of the woodwork are original. The furnishings all predate 1847 and as nearly close as possible when it was the residence of the Coffins. The residence has many unusual hiding places where slaves were able to hide and avoid detection until they could be transported to one of the free states. The house contains an unusual indoor well which concealed the vast amount of water necessary to sustain the many extra guests. A vast amount of items pertaining to slavery are housed here.
Quakers in Indiana:
Doctrinal issues divided the Society of Friends worldwide throughout the nineteenth century. Indiana did not escape the friction. The first split came in 1827, when the followers of New York Friend Elias Hicks split from the Society. When he appeared in Indiana for the 1828 Yearly Meeting, Hicks was not received by the orthodox Friends. Hoosier Hicksites then split from the Yearly Meeting. After the Civil War another doctrinal fissure opened in the ranks of the Society. Both the Western and Indiana Meetings were shaken by revivalism and holiness movements that were to last through the century. (Rudolph:207-216) (See Hamm: Chapter 4 The Separations)
It was slavery and abolition that caused great tension and a split amongst the Friends of the 1840’s and 50’s. Quakers were well-established in Indiana politics by the 1840’s. They were officeholders and state legislators, usually members of the Whig party and solidly anti-slavery. Indiana’s first anti-slavery newspaper, the "Protectionist", was published by a New England Quaker in a room over Levi Coffin’s store in Newport. Another journal published in Newport was the "Free Labor Advocate". This was the journal of the Free Labor Movement which advocated discontinuing the use of, or purchase of, any goods or foodstuffs made or raised with the use of slave labor. This cause was championed by Abolitionist leader Levi Coffin and Free Labor stores where opened by several Quakers in the Whitewater Valley. Abolitionist Friends wrote for both of the journals to the great dismay of more moderate Hoosier Quakers. They also founded, and joined, abolitionist societies. This, most moderate and conservative Friends felt, was against the Quaker notion of appropriate quiet and retiring demeanor. Membership in Abolition Societies brought far too much notoriety to such members and disrupted the notion of unity, so valued by Friends.
In 1842 Levi Coffin and other influential Friends were disciplined by the Yearly Meeting for their outspoken, and very public behavior, relating to slavery. The next day the Meeting welcomed slave owner Henry Clay as an honored guest. Outraged, the Anti-slavery friends retired to Newport and formed the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends. Levi Coffin, Charles Osborn and Henry Weeks were among the leaders of the Indiana Anti-Slavery Friends. The orthodox Friends were much grieved by the split. But, by 1857, these Friends had become, for the most part, abolitionists themselves. That year the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends dissolved and most members rejoined the Indiana Yearly Meeting. (Rudolph: 203-205; See Hamm: Chapter9A. Quakers and African Americans)
The true scope of Hoosier Quaker participation in the Underground Railroad is still at question. Quaker assistance to escaping slaves grew to mythical proportions through the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Hoosier Friend, Levi Coffin implied in his 1878 Reminiscences, that he was the model for the Quaker rescuer Simeon Halliday, in spite of the fact that Stowe had years earlier named Thomas Garrett of Delaware as her model.
Coffin did, however, actually aid refuge slaves as early as the 1830’s and the Indiana Yearly Meeting was not pleased with his actions. Coffin, and other Friends, did actively aid slave fugitives as best they could. Scholars now believe that the true heroes of the Underground Railroad were free blacks. Because many lived in settlements, near, or in conjunction with Quaker communities they often received aid, both monetary and physical, from their sympathetic white neighbors. (Hamm:126-129)
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
Coffin, Levi. Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad: Being a Brief History of the Labors of a Lifetime in Behalf of the Slave, with the Stories of Numerous Fugitives, Who Gained Their Freedom Through His Instrumentality, and Many Other Incidents. Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co, 1880. Print. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/752333
Hamm, Thomas. Quakers in the Old Northwest. n.d., unpublished. Conner Prairie Archives.
Yannessa, Mary Ann (2001). Levi Coffin, Quaker: Breaking the bonds of slavery in Ohio and Indiana. Friends United Press. ISBN 0944350542. http://books.google.com/books?id=sHomAQAACAAJ.
Levi Coffin Collection. 1825- . FMS 54.The collection consists of papers found in the attic of the Coffin house in Fountain City, 1825-1842, a copy of Coffin's will, papers of the family of Levi Coffin's cousin Emory Dunreith Coffin (1824-1863), whose daughter Louisa May was the ghostwriter for Levi Coffin's Reminiscences (1876), and numerous clippings.
lauriejenkins170, Hickory Hills, Texas,
MacWhatley, Franklinville, North Carolina
Calvin Fairbank biography (original typescript image from "Reminiscences of Levi Coffin")
Biography based on weblink by Donald Greyfield, Findagrave.com
Levi Coffin, Jr.'s Timeline
October 28, 1798
New Garden, Guilford, North Carolina
October 24, 1824
Friends Meeting House, Guilford, North Carolina
August 1, 1825
New Garden, Guilford, North Carolina
July 9, 1828
September 15, 1831
October 22, 1836
August 14, 1839
October 2, 1843
September 16, 1877
Spring Grave Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio