International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition

Today the United Nations observes International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The day is meant to remind people of the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade and give people a chance to think about the historic causes, the methods and the consequences of the slave trade. This day also pays tribute to those who worked hard to abolish slave trade and slavery throughout the world.

Here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center you can learn about several people who fought to abolish slavery, like Quakers Catharine and Levi Coffin. The Coffins helped thousands of fugitive slaves to safety in Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio through the Underground Railroad.

The coffins became abolitionists when they moved to Newport and overheard stories about fugitive slaves in hiding. Many of the escaped slaves were often recaptured, so Levi Coffin and his wife decided they were going to help. Levi Coffin spread the word to the black community that he would hide slaves in his home. During the winter of 1826-1827 the Coffins provided shelter, transportation, food and clothing for the runaways. Word got around of what the Coffins were doing, and many in the town opposed to their actions. However, there were a few who were willing to risk their lives and join the fight. The coffins worked with the other abolitionists to create a more formal route that could move the slaves smoothly from stop to stop.

In 1839, the Coffins had a two-story, eight-room brick house built with several modifications to create better hiding places. The home became a point of convergence for three major escape routes from Madison and New Albany, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio. It is said that they helped as many as 2,000 runaways during the years they lived in Newport.

By 1847 the Coffins left Newport and moved to Cincinnati. They moved houses several times, until they found a home that could be used to continue their efforts of helping fugitive slaves. The large home they purchased had rooms that were rented out for boarding. With the constant flow of guests coming in and out, it was a perfect cover to create a station for the Underground Railroad. The Coffins continued to hide, feed and clothe runaways. Catharine Coffin started creating costumes in order to better disguise them. She dressed them as cooks, butlers and other household workers.  

As time went on, the Coffins focused on other ways of freeing slaves, but never gave up being abolitionists. They are known for leading so many slaves to freedom. Luckily, they were never caught for their great acts and passed away in the late 1800s due to natural causes. 

-Katie Johnstone
Marketing and Communications Intern

Image One: Levi and Catharine Coffin
Image Two: The Levi Coffin house used to hide fugitive slaves. 

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