Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Freedom's a Short Walk

The Underground Railroad

The Lindsey - Watts' Legacy Begins

North Star

Jacob Lindsey was a free black man from Maryland. He met and fell in love with a white member of the family of a doctor in Jamestown, NC in 1839. My grandfather said that his grandfather’s name was Dr. Coffin and that he was a Quaker. The only Doctor with that name in Jamestown, NC was Dr. Shubal Coffin. I cannot confirm whether Mary was Dr. Coffin’s daughter or related some other way, all I know is that and he cared for this family at his home and kept them together as a family unit for at least 25 years (1840-1865).

This is the house where they lived in Jamestown.

In order to protect Mary and her children, Dr. Coffin listed them as his slaves and until after the Civil War the children's surnames were Coffin. Comparison of the slave census schedules of 1850 and 1860 showed Dr. Coffin's slaves as the exact same sex and ages of Mary and her children, and they are the only slaves owned by Dr. Coffin, no adult male slave is present and Junius Coffin’s military records list him as William Junius Coffin of Jamestown, NC. Mary Coffin Lindsey is listed as mulatto on the census of 1870. I consulted with Dr. Willard Hess, a Quaker historian, in Indianapolis, IN, he stated the mixed marriages were illegal in Indiana at that time and in order to avoid prosecution, she would have listed herself as mulatto. He also stated that people who were listed as mulatto up North, had to be light enough to look white and more than likely my family story was correct and that Mary Coffin Lindsey was white.

Doctor Shubal Coffin started the first medical school in North Carolina at Jamestown, Guilford County, NC, with a Dr. Lindsay and Dr. Robbins. He was a member of the famous Coffin family, which started the Underground Railroad and had such notable abolitionists as Levi Coffin and Lucretia Mott.

The Underground Railroad was started in 1819 by Vestal Coffin at New Garden in Guilford County, N.C.3 Coffin had joined the Manumission Society begun by Benjamin Lundy in 1816. The Friends in North Carolina had mostly freed their slaves in 1772, but many of these freed slaves stayed with their owners rather than run the risk of capture by other southerners. Such was the case with Aaron and Samuel Henley of Randolph County, both of whom had freed slaves living on their property in 1840. These slaves had been inherited through their wives’ families.

The leader of the Underground Railroad in Indiana was Levi Coffin, an uncle of Vestal Coffin who had emigrated west to Newport, Indiana, near the border of Ohio and Indiana. For twenty years Levi and Catherine Coffin opened their home as a way-station for more than 2000 escaped slaves. On the escape route were homes of relatives of the Coffins. The way-stations and routes were kept secret and never put in writing to protect the lives of the home-owners and the slaves. However, it is known that some of the stops or overnight refuges were at homes of relatives of the Coffins and their fellow Friends. In Carthage, the homes of Joseph Henley and Bethuel Coffin White were such havens.

In Newport the railroad operated out of the home of Levi Coffin and his wife, Catherine (White), and was referred to as “Grand Central Station” (Fig. 49). In Indianapolis, Charles F. Coffin was the head of the operation. The railroad operated from 1819 to 1852 and transported over 2000 slaves to freedom in the north.

Carthage was a station on the Underground Railroad before, during, and after the Civil War (Figs. 47 and 48). The Underground Railroad stretched from Deep River, North Carolina, to Newport (or Fountain City), Indiana (Fig. 48) and then on to Indianapolis.

Underground Railroad routes between stations in Indiana were varied and were kept very secret to protect those giving sanctuary to the slaves on their escape routes. Joseph Henley and Bethuel Coffin White opened their homes in Carthage to escaping slaves.

Underground Railroad routes in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Quakers in North Carolina sent freed slaves into Ohio and Indiana through Cincinnati, Ohio, and Madison and Jeffersonville, Indiana, to Underground stations at the homes of relatives and friends on their way to freedom in the North.

Called the Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad, Levi Coffin’s home in Newport or Fountain City, Indiana, was the center of rescue operations for freed slaves and stands today as an historic site.

Southern Friends had taken an early stand against slavery and freed their slaves. To their chagrin, they found that many manumitted slaves were being recaptured and resold into slavery. Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, slave owners could repossess runaway slaves by presenting proof of ownership in front of a magistrate. Slaves had no right to a trial or to give evidence on their own behalf. Most runaway slaves were abused by their owners. The Quakers did not want to see the slaves they had freed captured and resold into slavery.

The Levi Coffins and their neighbors in Newport used ingenious methods of hiding the slaves who sometimes stayed over for weeks at a time. The Friends made every effort to prepare the slaves for freedom by teaching them to read and do sums while they were in their homes, to provide clothing, and a few necessities to take along with them on the escape route.

When the slaves were being transported from one way-station to another, they were often hidden beneath farm goods in the false bottom of a wagon. Special hidden rooms were devised in the homes on the route where they could hide while hunters were searching a house. Sometimes they hid between mattresses on a bed.

Many times the slaves were in poor health and needed medical care before being able to continue on the escape route. At Deep River, N.C., Dr. Nathan B. Hill and his wife, Eliza (Mendenhall) provided care, schooling and clothing at their home. In Newport, Indiana, the whole Quaker community worked to sew clothes and other necessities for the slaves.

The Friends never solicited or advised a slave to leave his master. They only looked after those who came seeking help. If a fugitive had not the mind or judgment to understand the secret of the business, he or she was sent back to their master; this was because failure and recapture meant "Georgia and Rice Swamps" and endangered the lives of both escapee and the member of the Underground Railroad. White fathers of slaves often brought their slave children to the Underground Railroad operators to ask for transportation to the safe northern states for their children to save them from a life of slavery which was inevitable if they remained in the south.4

Ingenious methods were used to disguise the health of slaves so that they would not sell on the market. Dropsy was brought on by bandaging the limbs until they were swollen and purple--quite painful, but slaves were willing to take pain over being resold to the south. Rheumatism was produced by bandaging above and below a joint on an arm or leg and erysipelas by rubbing any part of the body a few times with hot budock root boiled down to very strong tea. This last method was the most severe but deceptive and effectual.5

The papers of one freed slave, Arch Curry, who died, were given by his widow to other slaves fitting his description to be sent through as a "free man" with families going west. The papers were then returned and used again.6

In their flight to freedom, slaves used three principal crossing points--Cincinnati, Ohio, and Madison and Jeffersonville, Indiana.

One of the many slaves who was given sanctuary at the Levi Coffin's home was "Eliza" whose story is told in Uncle Tom's Cabin. In his diary, Levi Coffin wrote that it was generally believed that Simeon and Rachel Halliday, the Quaker couple alluded to in the book, were he and his wife.

The Underground Railroad operated from 1819 to 1852 transporting over 2000 slaves to freedom in the north.


Follow the Drinking Gourd*

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Follow the Drinking Gourd

The riverbank makes a very good road

The dead trees will show you the way

Left foot, peg foot, traveling on

The river ends between two hills

There’s another river on the other side

When the great big river meets

the little river

Follow the Drinking Gourd

For the old man is

A-waiting for to carry you to freedom

If you follow the

Drinking Gourd

*This was a song slaves sang about escaping to the North by following the Drinking Gourd, which is the the Big Dipper constellation.


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