Presbyterian minister John Rankin moved his family to Kentucky, where he became an active member of the Kentucky Abolition Society and opened a school for enslaved children despite laws that forbade him from teaching slaves to read. After receiving many threats, he moved his family to Ripley, Ohio. By 1824 he began publishing a series of antislavery letters that were addressed to his slaveholding brother in Virginia. His writings were later published in abolitionist papers in New Jersey. Rankin claimed to have helped hundreds of runaways escape across the Ohio River prior to the Civil War.
In 1844, sailor Jonathan Walker became a national celebrity after being tried for attempting to help seven enslaved men from Florida escape to freedom in the Bahamas. Walker was born in 1799 in Harwich, Massachusetts and grew up in shipyards and on ships. During his career as a sailor, he became acquainted with abolitionists including Benjamin Lundy. On a salvaging mission in Florida, seven enslaved men asked him to take them to the Bahamas where they could be free; he agreed and they set sail in 1844. Before reaching the Bahamas, another ship captured Walker’s boat and returned it to Florida. All seven men were returned to slavery and Walker was tried for aiding slaves. He was fined $600, received prison time and had his hand branded with an “S.S.” to forever signify that he was a “slave stealer.”
Considered by some to be the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s character Uncle Tom, Josiah Henson was born enslaved in Charles County, Maryland in 1789. As a child he saw his father beaten for attacking an overseer. His father’s continued disobedience resulted in his being sold away; Henson never saw him again. This event influenced Henson to earn his master’s favor. When Isaac Riley, his master, fell into financial trouble, he sold 19 of his slaves to a slave owner in Kentucky; he entrusted Henson to transport them. Henson led them through Ohio, a free state, but chose to continue the rest of the journey to Kentucky. Though he longed to be a free man, he never considered running away. He worked to buy his freedom but when his owner added stipulations, he ran away to Colchester, Canada with his wife and children.
The Black History website at the Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL) in Kalamazoo, Michigan features information on antebellum American history, abolitionism, and the Civil War. The website focuses on Kalamazoo’s role in the Underground Railroad, highlighting local abolitionists such as Henry Montague and Dr. Nathan Thomas, and refers to sources from the Kalamazoo Gazette and Michigan State University press, as well as local history subject files pertaining to the Underground Railroad.
Formed in 1836, the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) in Frankfort, Kentucky began collecting books and printed materials in 1838. An agency of Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet, the Society’s mission is to invite exploration of Kentucky’s diverse heritage. Its Libraries and Special Collections houses more than 90,000 published works of information on everything from the Civil War to the Underground Railroad and more.
Lane Theological Seminary attracted students from Ohio, eastern states and the South. In 1834, spirited abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld enrolled at the institution and began to rally students to embrace abolition and the immediate emancipation of slaves. Weld, along with William and James Allan, two southern brothers, began hosting debates to discuss abolition. James Bradley, former slave and Lane’s only black student, spoke of his experiences in bondage at the debates and was instrumental in convincing many southern students of the importance of abolition. The board of trustees put an end to the debates, causing 75 of the 103 students to withdraw from the school.
The Legacy of Slavery Project within the Maryland State Archives seeks to preserve and promote the vast universe of experiences that have shaped the lives of Maryland’s African American population. In 2001, the Maryland State Archives began to organize research on individuals fighting against slavery, with the intention of discovering the many unknown 'heroes' of the fight for freedom. ‘Beneath the Underground’ website was created to explore the legacy of the Underground Railroad with primary source documents. The ‘Legacy of Slavery’ Archives covers information on the United States Colored Troops, slavery, the War of 1812, and the Maryland Colonization Society. The website features a section devoted to ‘Case Studies,’ summaries of available runaway ads, court documents, census data, and published material from the antebellum Maryland community with a connection to slavery.
Levi Coffin was born on October 28, 1798 in New Garden, North Carolina to an established Quaker family. One day, while he and his father were working along a roadside, young seven-year-old Levi watched as slave traders marched a group of men down the dirt path in shackles. Coffin never forgot the experience and used it as a motivator in his endeavors as an abolitionist. The Coffin family moved to Newport, Indiana in 1826, where they became heavily involved in the Underground Railroad. As an adult he continued to help runaways, organized the non-denominational Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission, and attended the International Anti-Slavery Conference in Paris.
Lewis Hayden was born enslaved in 1811 but fled bondage and became one of Boston’s leading abolitionists. After Calvin Fairbank helped the Hayden family escape slavery in Kentucky, they fled to Canada. Determined to end slavery in America, Hayden moved to Detroit but soon made Boston his permanent home. He owned and operated a clothing store while aiding runaways and was an important figure in the now-famous rescues of Ellen and William Craft, Shadrach Minkins, Thomas Sims and Anthony Burns.
Inspired by the abolitionist movement in Britain, Elizabeth Chandler founded the Logan Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1832. Membership included Quakers, Presbyterians and other religious denominations. Beyond reading British anti-slavery literature, little is known about the organization’s activities.