A Look Inside - Reminiscences of Levi Coffin

A Look Inside: Reminiscences of Levi Coffin


Accessible Archives subscribers can find this fully searchable 712-page book in part VII of our Civil War collectionAbraham Lincoln Library Abolitionist Books.


I have been solicited for many years to write a history of my anti-slavery labors and underground railroad experiences, and although I had kept a diary the most of my life, it was without any prospect of ever putting it into book form. I had no desire to appear before the public as an author, having no claim to literary merit.

What I had done I believed was simply a Christian duty and not for the purpose of being seen of men, or for notoriety, which I have never sought. But I was continually urged by my friends to engage in the work, believing that it would be interesting to the rising generation; but being so fully occupied with other duties, I seemed to find no time that I could devote to this work, so that it was put off from year to year. I also often received letters from different parts of the country, desiring me to write the history of my life and labors in the anti-slavery cause, reminding me that the most of my co-laborers had passed away, and that I must soon follow, and that these stirring anti-slavery times in which I lived and labored were a part of the history of our country, which should not be lost.

But still, I deferred it until now, in the seventy-eighth year of my age. And although I feel the infirmities of that period of life fast gathering around me, I have gathered up my diaries, and other documents that had been preserved, and have written a book. In my own plain, simple style, I have endeavored to tell the stories without any exaggeration. Errors no doubt will appear, which I trust the indulgent reader will pardon, in consideration of my advanced age and feebleness. It is here proper also to acknowledge the valuable services of a kind friend, for aid received in preparing these pages for the press. I regret that I have been obliged to leave out many interesting stories and thrilling incidents, on account of swelling the size and cost of the book beyond what was agreed upon with the publishers.

Among the stories omitted is the account of the long imprisonment and sufferings of Calvin Fairbank, of Massachusetts, in the Kentucky penitentiary, for aiding fugitives, and of Richard Dillingham, of Ohio, who suffered and died in the penitentiary at Nashville, Tennessee, for a similar offense.

Part VII of our Civil War collection, Abraham Lincoln Library Abolitionist Books: Compiled by the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Library in Springfield, Illinois this unique collection brings together a disparate group of abolitionist era reference materials.


  • CHAPTER I – Conversion to Abolitionism • Incidents of the Cruelties of Slavery • First Efforts on Behalf of the Slaves • Stephen, the Kidnapped Negro • The Captured Slave • Services of Vestal Coffin • The Story of Ede • The White Slave
  • CHAPTER II – The Story of Jack Barnes • My Journey with a Slave-owner • A Mission Full of Anxiety • The Story of Sam • I Turn Slave-hunter • Narrow Escape from Arrest • Penalty of Aiding a Slave • Fate of Poor Sam
  • CHAPTER III – Teaching Slaves to Read • Sabbath-School Work • Agitation of the Anti-Slavery Cause • Manumission Societies • Trip to Indiana • Incidents on the Way • The Early Settlements of Indiana • I Engage in School Labors • Organization of the first Sabbath-School in Western Indiana • A Visit to Illinois • Lost on the Prairie • Springfield, Illinois, Fifty Years Ago • Conclusion of School Labors in Indiana • Return to North Carolina • Short Trip to Virginia
  • CHAPTER IV – Marriage • Removal to Indiana • I Locate at Newport and Engage in Mercantile Business • Underground Railroad Work • Difficulties and Dangers of the Work • Trip to North Carolina • Heart-rending Scene at a Slave Auction • Temperance Work at Newport
  • CHAPTER V – Newport Stories • The Cunning Slave • Robert Burrel • Eliza Harris • Sam, the Eloquent Slave • Prejudice Against Color • Aunt Rachel • A Slave-hunter Outwitted • Seventeen Fugitives
  • CHAPTER VI – Newport Stories Continued • Seventeen Fugitives • Two Slave Girls from Maryland • Anecdote of a Visit to Cincinnati • Story of Louis Talbert • John White
  • CHAPTER VII – Discussion of the Anti-Slavery Subject • Anti-Slavery Societies and Lecturers • Opposition to the Movement • Separation of Friends of Indiana Yearly Meeting • Action which Caused the Separation • Reunion • The Committee from London Yearly Meeting • Interviews with the Committee • Last Interview with William Forster • Visit to Canada in 1844 • Meetings with Fugitives • Their Stories • A Special Providence • Aunt Susie’s Dream • The Story of Jackson • A Mother Rescues her Children
  • CHAPTER VIII – Free Labor • Testimony of John Woolman and Others • My Convictions • Free-Labor Societies of New York and Philadelphia • Our Organization in the West • Removal to Cincinnati • Free-Labor Business • Southern Cotton Produced by Free Labor • Incidents of a Southern Trip • Interviews with Slaveholders
  • CHAPTER IX – Underground Railroad Work in Cincinnati • A Reminiscence • The Fugitive Cook Girl • A Company of Twenty-eight Fugitives • Aunt Betsey • Jack and Lucy • Assessments on Underground Railroad Stock • A Pro-Slavery Man Silenced • The Story of Jane
  • CHAPTER X – Cincinnati Stories Continued • The Rag Baby • The Vice-President’s Slave • The Disguised Slave • Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing • Sally, the Slave Mother • Louis and Ellen • The Michigan Raid
  • CHAPTER XI – Cincinnati Stories Continued • John Wilson and Eliza • Uncle Tom • Rose, the White Slave • Story of Jim and his Friend in a Tight Box
  • CHAPTER XII – Louisa Picquet, the Octoroon • John Fairfield, the Southern Abolitionist • John and Mary • Narrow Escapes of Fugitives
  • CHAPTER XIII – A Pro-Slavery Man Turns Abolitionist • Fourteen Fugitives Cross on the Ice • Slave Children Placed in our Charge • The Case of William Thompson
  • CHAPTER XIV – Major Phillips • A Slaveholder’s Colored Family • My Trip with the Major down the River • Incidents of the Journey • Discussions with Slaveholders • Insights into Southern Social Life • A Whipping on Board a Boat
  • CHAPTER XV – The Mob Spirit in Cincinnati • Destruction of the Philanthropist Press in 1836 • Demonstration of Pro-Slavery Feeling in 1841 • A Disgraceful Riot • The Scanlan Mob
  • CHAPTER XVI – Trials Under the Fugitive Slave Law • The Wash. McQuerry Case • The Services of John Jolliffe • Escape from a Court Room • The Rosetta Case • Margaret Garner • The Story of a Hat
  • CHAPTER XVII – An U. G. R. R. Depot • The Purchase of Slaves by their Relatives • Other Services for the Colored People • The Case of Connelly • Sambo in a Tight Box
  • CHAPTER XVIII – Last Work on the U. G. R. R. • The Prince of Wales • Beginning of the War • Kirby Smith’s Threatened Raid • Rescue of a Slave Girl by Two Union Soldiers • The Kentucky Policy and Col. Utley’s Action
  • CHAPTER XIX – Work Among the Freedmen • Visit to Cairo • Destitution and Suffering of the Colored People • Efforts in Their Behalf • Organization of Relief Societies
  • CHAPTER XX – Mission to England • Labors in Behalf of the Freedmen • Incidents of the Work • Contributions from all Classes of Society • Public Meetings

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