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Levi Coffin (American National Biography)

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Larry Gara, "Coffin, Levi," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00134.html.

In Newport Coffin opened a highly successful mercantile business, later adding an oil mill. He soon became involved in helping fugitive slaves, work that previously had been conducted mostly by neighboring black families. Fugitives were provided with food, clothing, and temporary housing before the Coffins arranged for their transportation north. Levi Coffin's leadership and more than twenty years of service eventually earned him the sobriquet "President of the Underground Railroad" among abolitionists in the region.

The Coffins aided an average of 100 fugitive slaves a year passing through on their way to Canada. One of the fugitives they helped is said to have inspired the Eliza Harris character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Coffin himself was the model for the book's Simeon Halliday. Although Coffin was well known for his clandestine work, his house was never searched for fugitives. The well-knit organization that he created in Newport and later in Cincinnati contributed to the legendary status of the Underground Railroad...

Coffin viewed the Civil War as divine punishment for slavery. As a nonresistant, he gave no personal support to the Union military effort, but he did care for the wounded and provided supplies to those who were prepared to defend Cincinnati against possible Confederate raids. He also visited former slaves--then called contraband--behind Union lines and collected money to provide them with warm clothing and bedding. He helped organize the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission and traveled to the British Isles to raise money for its support.

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How to Cite This Page: "Levi Coffin (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/19264.