The Underground Railroad in North Carolina
The Underground Railroad was perhaps the most active and dramatic protest action against slavery in United States history and as we look at the Underground Railroad in North Carolina we will focus on the Quakers, Levi Coffin’s early years, and the accounts of escaped slaves from North Carolina. The unique blend of southern slave holder and northern abolitionist influences in the formation of North Carolina served to make the state an important link in the efforts to end slavery inside and outside of North Carolina borders.
Although not "underground" nor a "railroad," this informal system became a loosely constructed network of escape routes that originated in the South, intertwined throughout the North, and eventually ended in Canada and other places where runaways were safe from being recaptured. From 1830 to 1865, the Underground Railroad reached its peak as abolitionists who condemned human bondage aided large numbers of slaves to freedom. They not only called for an end to slavery, but acted to assist its victims in securing freedom. Unlike other organized activities of the abolition movement that primarily denounced human bondage, the Underground Railroad secretly resisted slavery by aiding runaways.
Because the Underground Railroad had a lack of formal organization, its existence often relied on the efforts of many people from many different aspects of life in North Carolina who helped slaves to escape. Accounts are limited of individuals who actually participated in its activities. Usually conductors hid or destroyed their personal journals to protect themselves and the runaways. However some first hand accounts from runaway slaves were recorded. The shortage of evidence suggests that significance of the Underground Railroad may never be fully realized. However, the few journals and records that have survived over time seem to show that the true heroes of the underground were not the abolitionists or sympathizers, but those runaway slaves who were willing to risk their lives and leave those they loved to gain freedom.
Levi Coffin was born on October 28, 1798 on a farm in New Garden, North Carolina, the only son of seven children born to Quaker parents, Levi and Prudence (Williams) Coffin.
Because his father needed him to work on the farm, young Levi received the bulk of his education at home. His home schooling proved to be a good education. As a young boy growing up in North Carolina in the early 1800's, Levi saw firsthand the reality of slavery. One day while he was out with his father helping to chop wood by the roadside, a group of slaves, handcuffed and chained together, passed by on their way to be sold in Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana. When Levi’s father asked them why they were chained, one of the men sadly replied: "They have taken us away from our wives and children, and they chain us lest we should make our escape and go back to them."1 After the group of slaves...