Skip to main content

Hege Library & Learning Technologies

North Carolina Quakers, Anti-Slavery, and the Underground Railroad: Levi Coffin

Levi Coffin



















Brief Biography:


Date of Birth:   28 Oct 1789                      Place of Birth:  New Garden, Guilford County, North Carolina

Date of Death:   16 Sep 1877                   Place of Death:  Fountain City, Wayne, Indiana


Where lived:  New Garden, Guilford Co. North Carolina / Fountain City, Wayne Co., Indiana

Grandparent's Names:   William Coffin and Priscilla Paddock

Parent's Names: Levi Coffin and Prudence Williams

Aunts and Uncles names: Deborah, Priscilla, Libni, William Jr., Samuel, Barnabas, Matthew, Abijah, Bethuel, Abijah, Priscilla  (Children of William and Priscilla Coffin)

Spouse's Name(s): Catherine White

Siblings Names:  Deborah, Beulah, Ann, Mary, Ann, Sarah, Levi Jr., Priscilla

Quaker Meeting Membership(s):  New Garden Meeting


Chronological events in connection with Slavery, Abolition, and the Underground Railroad

1798 Levi Coffin was born October 28, 1798 near New Garden in Guilford County, North Carolina
1821 Levi Coffin and his cousin, Vestal Coffin, begin to teach slaves to read the Bible at New Garden Sunday School.The efforts end soon after local slaveholders protest the action.
1822 Coffin went with Benjamin White, his brother-in-law, on his move to Indiana.
1824 Levi Coffin and Catherine White, the sister of his brother-in-law, marry at Hopewell Friends Meetinghouse in North Carolina on October 28, 1824.
1825 Levi Coffin's parents move to Indiana. Levi and Catherine await the birth of their first child, Jesse Coffin.
!826 Levi, Catherine, and their new baby, Jesse, move to Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana.
1847 Levi Coffin moves to Cincinnati, Ohio, and starts a business selling produce made by free laborerers, not slaves. He was also active in the Underground Railroad.

About Levi Coffin

Historical Marker

North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources


Marker Text:


Anti-slavery leader, reputed president of "Underground Railroad,"

was born about 4 miles north. Moved to Indiana in 1826.



     Levi Coffin first saw shackled slaves when he was seven years old, working in the field with his father. While he may not have realized it at that moment, he would spend the rest of his life working to free individuals from the shackles of slavery and one day would be a prominent player in the Underground Railroad, indeed becoming known as its “conductor.” 

      Levi Coffin was born in the Guilford County Quaker community of New Garden on October 28, 1789. The only son of Levi and Prudence Williams Coffin, he was taught by his father and engaged in work on the farm. He joined the Quakers of New Garden in 1818 and soon after began a Sunday school in the schoolhouse adjoining the meeting house. As an opponent to slavery, he joined Guilford County’s first manumission society. Together with his cousin Vestal Coffin, he began a school for slaves, teaching them about Christianity and Bible reading on Sunday afternoons. Slave masters soon came to oppose this and forbade their slaves to attend. Coffin married Catherine White on October 28, 1824. Two years later, they moved to Newport in Wayne County, Indiana. 

     Not long after they arrived in Newport, now known as Fountain City, the couple realized that they were on a route of the Underground Railroad, through which slaves escaping to freedom passed. Coffin and his wife joined the movement and made their house a “station” to shelter runaways and provide safe passage into Canada. During the twenty years they lived in Newport, the Coffins helped 2,000 slaves escape to safety. One of those was the slave “Eliza,” depicted by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Not one of the slaves who passed through the Coffin house failed to reach freedom. 

     In 1847, Coffin moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he opened a wholesale store to sell goods manufactured by free labor. In addition to being a member of the Underground Railroad movement, Coffin was a member of the temperance movement. He also sat on the Committee on Concerns of People of Color, which sought to improve the education of black people. In May of 1864, he traveled to England where he helped form the English Freemen’s Aid Society, which in one year sent over $100,000 in money, clothing, and other necessities to aid the cause of freedom in America. In 1867, he was a delegate to the International Anti-Slavery Conference in Paris. Levi Coffin died in Cincinnati on September 16, 1878, and is buried in the city's Spring Grove Cemetery. 

Levi Coffin, Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, Reputed President of the Underground Railroad (1879) 
Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (1946) 
Levi Coffin House Website: 
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 394—sketch by Mary Katherine Hoskins 





Original Date Cast: