Fountain City

On the Trail to Freedom

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There was a time when those aiding escaping slaves could lose not only their property and liberty but also, in rare instances, their lives.

Yet Levi and Catherine Coffin, who lived in southeastern Indiana, believed so fervently in the anti-slavery movement that they helped around 2000 slaves find their way to freedom.

Levi Coffin was taught the tenets of abolitionism early on.

Given his early dedication, it’s little wonder that Coffin became so active in aiding runaway slaves that he earned the title of “president” of the Underground Railroad and his home was titled Grand Central Station.

The Coffin home, a two story, eight room red brick house built in 1839, still stands. Now a National Historic Landmark and a house museum, several years ago it was named one of the top twenty-five historical sites by The History Channel.

A well to do and philanthropic man, Coffin used his money to fund the railroad.

Some wondered why Coffin would spend his money and take such risks. To those he responded “the Bible in bidding us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, said nothing about color and I should try to follow the teachings of that good book.”

Parts of the Federal style house, even more than 170 years later, are still original including the fireplaces, flooring, doors and most of the woodwork. The furnishings, all prior to 1847, reflect the time period when the Coffins lived here and those that would most likely be found in a Quaker home.

Thus the house remains much as it was when slave would knock on the door at all times of night.

“I would invite them, in a low tone,” recalled Coffin about those soft raps on his door, “to come in, and they would follow me into the darkened house without a word, for we knew not who might be watching and listening.”

Slave hunters were cruel and evil but not necessarily dumb, so conductors like Coffin had to be even wilier. When visiting the Coffin home, check out the entryway to a small garret, normally hidden by a bed, where runaway slaves would hide and the false-bottomed wagon used to transport runaway slaves.

There’s also an indoor well, a useful feature since runaway slaves would have consumer a lot of water and extra trips to an outdoor well might have been noticed.

It is because of people like the Coffins who so believed that everyone should be free, that eventually it came to be.

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