This Day in Black History: Oct. 28, 1798

Levi Coffin, president of the Underground Railroad, was born.

Posted: 10/28/2012 08:30 AM EDT
Levi Coffin: This Day in Black History: Oct. 28, 1798

(Photo: Wikicommons)

Levi Coffin was not Black and had little formal education, but he played a very important role in African-American history. Born on Oct. 28, 1978, in what is now Greensboro, North Carolina, Coffin was a devout Quaker who vehemently opposed slavery.

Despite having had little formal education, he became a prosperous general store owner in Wayne County, Indiana, which happened to be on an Underground Raildroad route used by fugitive slaves making their way to Canada. He and his wife Catherine so generously opened their homes and their wallets that Coffin earned the honor of "President of the Underground Railroad." They also are the real-life versions of the characters Simeon and Rachel Halliday in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

But there were consequences.

While some neighbors began to engage in the effort, short of offering actual shelter to slaves, many of his customers who supported slavery stopped supporting his business.

"For a while my business prospects were discouraging, yet my faith was not shaken, nor my efforts for the slaves lessened," Coffin wrote.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, Coffin became an equally ardent advocate of freedmen.


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