Silhouette: Levi Coffin, Abolitionist (1798-1877)


Levi Coffin was born on October 28, 1798 in North Carolina. Levi descended from Tristram Coffin, Sr. through his son, John of Nantucket, MA. He was a member of The Society of Friends (Quakers) and by 15 had begun assisting slaves to escape to the North.

Through the course of 20 years, Levi and his wife, Catherine, helped over 3,000 slaves escape bondage. Many from their home, which has been coined “The Grand Central Station of The Underground Railroad”. He was the President of The Underground Railroad and wrote about his experiences in his book Reminiscences of Levi Coffin.

Levi Coffin and The Underground Railroad

Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad; Being a Brief History of the Labors of a Lifetime in Behalf of the Slave, with the Stories of Numerous Fugitives, Who Gained Their Freedom Through His Instrumentality, and Many Other Incidents

by Levi Coffin, 1876, 1880

Levi Coffin House – The “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad

A genealogical sketch of the Coffin family by Levi Coffin, written in his book Reminiscences:

“THE following brief sketch of the Coffin family is gathered from the first number of the American Historical Record, published at Philadelphia, and from private records copied from those kept at Nantucket. The earliest account of the name we have dates back to 1066. In that year Sir Richard Coffin, knight, accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy to England, and the manor of Alwington, in the county of Devonshire, was assigned to him. The authorities respecting the county of Devonshire make honorable mention of Sir Elias Coffin, knight of Clist and Ingarby, in the days of King John; of Sir Richard Coffin, of Alwington, in the time of Henry II.; of Sir Jeffrey Coffin and Combe Coffin, under Henry III., and of other knights, descendants of these, until the time of Henry VIII., when we find Sir William Coffin, sheriff of Devonshire, highly preferred at Court, and one of eighteen assistants chosen by the king to accompany him to a tournament in France, in 1519. He was also high steward of the manor and liberties of Standon, in Hertford. By his will he bequeathed his horses and hawks to the king, and devised the manor of East Higgington, Devonshire, to his nephew, Sir Richard Coffin, of Portledge. His monument in Standon Church is mentioned in Weever’s “Funeral Monuments,” at page 534.

Nicholas Coffin, of Butler’s parish, in Devonshire, died in 1603. His will, which was proved at Totness, in Devonshire, November 3, 1603, mentions his wife and five children, viz: Peter, Nicholas, Tristram, John and Anne. Peter married Joanna Thimber, and died in 1627, leaving four daughters and two sons. One of these sons was the famous Tristram Coffin–or Coffyn, as he spelled it–the ancestor of the numerous families of that name in this country. Nearly all his descendants are enabled, by means of the accurate genealogical records in existence, to trace their lineage back to him, although nearly two centuries have elapsed since his death. He was born at Brixton, near Plymouth, in the county of Devonshire, England, in the year 1605. He married Dionis Stevens, and in 1642 came to New England, bringing with him his wife and five children, his mother and his two sisters. He first settled at Salisbury, Massachusetts, where he lived a number of years, and in 1660 removed, with his family, and settled upon the island of Nantucket. He was one of a company of nine who first purchased Nantucket from the Indians, which fact appears in a conveyance from the Sachems, Wanackmamack, and Nickanoose. Prior to this purchase from the natives, the English title to the greater portion of the island had been obtained from Thomas Mayhew, who held the same under a conveyance from Lord Stirling. Tristram Coffin and his sons at one time owned about one-fourth of Nantucket, and the whole of the little island adjacent to it on the west, called Tuckernuck, containing one thousand acres, which was purchased of the old sachem, Potconet. He appears to have been a leading spirit among the first settlers, and was frequently selected by the inhabitants to transact important public business. The children of Tristram Coffin were Peter, Tristram, Elizabeth, James, John and Stephen. We trace our line of the family from John. He married Deborah Austin; their son Samuel married Miriam Gardner; their son William married Priscilla Paddock; their son Levi married Prudence Williams. These last were my parents, and this places me in the fifth generation from the first Tristram Coffin, of Nantucket. The different branches of Tristram Coffin’s family have increased and scattered, until there are representatives in nearly every part of the United States.”

The memorial of Levi Coffin

The Will of Levi Coffin


4 thoughts on “Silhouette: Levi Coffin, Abolitionist (1798-1877)

  1. I am a descendant of Tristram Coffin. I would love to more about my ancestors and the families in which we are related to. Particularly the Gardner family.

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