Levi Coffin Fact File Biography: Lifespan: 1798 – 1877 *** Full Name: Levi Coffin *** Occupation: American Quaker, Abolitionist and Businessman *** Date of Birth: Levi Coffin was born on October 28th 1798 *** Place of Birth: Levi Coffin was born in Guildford County, North Carolina, America *** Early life and childhood: He grew up with six sisters and working on his father’s farm *** Education: Levi Coffin did not receive much in the way of an education *** Levi Coffin died on September 16, 1877
Levi Coffin Fact 1: Levi Coffin was born on October 28th 1798. His father was Levi Coffin Sr and his mother was Prudence. His father was a Quaker and born in Massachusetts moving to North Carolina to farm land. His father was largely influenced by John Woolman, who strongly believed that owning slaves was unfair
Levi Coffin Fact 2: Levi Coffin was very disturbed by the notion of slavery. He once asked a slave why he was shackled in a chain gang. The man told him it was to stop him from running away back to his wife and children. This had such a profound effect on the young Levi Coffin that he feared his own father would be taken from him.
Levi Coffin Fact 3: By the time Levi Coffin was fifteen years of age he was already actively assisting his family in aiding escaped slaves to journey to safety. By the 1820’s North Caroline Quakers were regularly prosecuted not necessarily because they had actually be caught assisting black slaves flee but purely for being suspected of helping them.
Levi Coffin Fact 4: By 1821 many Quakers, sickened by the persecution of the slaves began to move to the Northwest Territories, where land was cheap and slavery was illegal. It was the Quaker communities that were largely responsible for the constitutional ban on slavery in Indiana and Ohio.
Levi Coffin Fact 5: Having visited Indiana with his brother-in-law Levi Coffin returned to North Carolina where he married Catherine White, his brother-in-law’s sister but the departure for Indiana was postponed as the pair were expecting their first child. After the birth of their son in 1825 the young family moved to Newport, Indiana in 1826.
Levi Coffin Fact 6: So prosperous was Indiana that, within the first year of moving there, having started to farm land Levi Coffin became prosperous. Levi Coffin was then able to open his own general store. As the years passed Levi Coffin always said that being prosperous enabled him to become involved in the Underground Railroad.
Levi Coffin Fact 7: It was not until after Levi Coffin had bought his home that he became aware that his property was right on one of the 'underground railroad' stops. Once aware of this, and knowing that a nearby community of escaped slaves were often re-captured because their hiding places were common knowledge, Levi Coffin let it be known that he was happy and willing to take slaves into his own home and to hid them until they could safely move on.
Levi Coffin Fact 8: Not many in his local community had opened their homes in this way, but upon seeing how Levi Coffin had avoided being caught, they found the courage to offer the same safety. The Underground Railroad expanded accordingly.
Levi Coffin Fact 9: The numbers of local residents offering safe haven along the Underground Railroad increased the number of slaves who reached the safety of Canada. The amount of fugitive slaves that passed through the safe house of Underground Railroad was so high that his home became referred to as “Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad'.Levi Coffin Fact 17: Levi Coffin moved to Cincinnati, leaving his business in capable hands and instructions for his home to continue to be used to harbor fugitives.
Levi Coffin Fact 10: Very often his friends and family feared for his safety, the slave-hunters knew him well and frequently threatened him but Levi Coffin would not be deterred. He later he wrote of his fears "...As to my safety, my life was in the hands of my Divine Master, and I felt that I had his approval. I had no fear of the danger that seemed to threaten my life or my business..."
Levi Coffin Fact 11: With the influx of immigrants into Indiana and largely of anti-slavery feelings Coffin’s business prospered to the extent he was able to build a mill and produced linseed oil from the flax he grew on his own property. Levi Coffin invested in the Bank of Indiana as well as being able to provide a new home in the form of a brick built two story structure for his family, that he designed to incorporate hidden spaces to accommodate upwards of fourteen people.
Levi Coffin Fact 12: By the 1840’s the Quaker leaders began to steer their Friends away from assisting fugitive slaves by advocating the strategy of seeking legal emancipation.
Levi Coffin Fact 13: Levi Coffin would, the following year, be expelled from his Quaker group because he refused to stop helping fugitive slaves via the 'Underground Railroad'.
Levi Coffin Fact 14: Help and funds were difficult to come by. His neighbors were no longer willing to risk offering shelter. Catherine, in an effort to help, organized the sewing society and they would make clothes that would help the anti-slavery cause.
Levi Coffin Fact 15: Levi Coffin refused to stock his store with any goods that were the product of slave labor. He did not care that his profits dropped
Levi Coffin Fact 16: The Salem Free Produce Association members approached Coffin to head up a new organization in the west to be known as the Western Free Produce Association. Levi Coffin initially refused due to lack of funds and he loathed the idea of moving into the city. Reluctantly, he finally accepted when he was convinced by their argument that there was no one better qualified to accept the position. His only condition was that he would do it for five years only, in which time he would train another person to take over.
Levi Coffin Fact 18: Eventually he returned home and bought a larger house to offer safe haven for fugitive slaves. His home also doubled as a boarding house.
Levi Coffin Fact 19: The American Civil War broke out, and although he was a Quaker and against violence, he nevertheless was prepared to help those who were injured and needing care. As life in the South changed for slaves and slave owners alike Levi Coffin to continued to provide help for ex-slaves. Levi Coffin also began to organize education facilities and business opportunities for ex-slaves to make new lives.
Levi Coffin Fact 20: After the Civil War and the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment and with slavery illegal his mission in life was largely complete. Able at last to retire he wrote a book about his life and the Underground Railroad which become hailed as one of the best accounts of the activities of the secret organization.
Levi Coffin Fact 21: Levi Coffin died on September 16, 1877 in his home in Avondale, Ohio. His body laid to rest in the Spring Grove Cemetery.
Influence and Legacy: His legacy was the untold number of black American slaves he helped move along the Underground Railroad by providing shelter, food, clothing and further passage in assisting them reach the safety of Canada where they could begin new lives without fear.
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