The house wasn’t the only thing with a nickname – Levi Coffin’s fierce opposition to slavery and his leadership role in freedom efforts earned him the moniker, “President of the Underground Railroad.”
Originally from North Carolina, the Coffins migrated north in 1826, and eventually settled in Newport (which is now called Fountain City). The family didn’t wait long to get involved in the abolition movement. By the first winter after their arrival, they were already using their house to provide shelter and food to runaway slaves.
Throughout his time in Indiana, Levi Coffin kept the authorities at bay by demanding search warrants and slave ownership papers, knowing that retrieving such documents would require would-be slave catchers to travel to the county seat at Centerville.
By the time they returned, the slaves were already on the move towards freedom.
In 1847, the Coffins left Indiana for Cincinnati, but they never left their work with the anti-slavery movement. In Ohio, the couple were estimated to have provided safe haven for over a thousand runaway slaves on top of the two thousand they reportedly assisted in Indiana.
Following the abolition of slavery, Coffin was instrumental in creating the Freedman’s Bureau and later served as an American delegate for the 1867 International Anti-Slavery Conference in Paris.
There were no official records kept, but Coffin himself estimated that he and his wife harbored over 100 fugitives a year between 1826 and 1847. It is believed that Catherine and Levi inspired the Quaker characters Simeon and Rachael Halliday in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.