Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site
The Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad
The historic home of Quaker couple Levi and Catharine Coffin in Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana was connected on the Underground Railroad. The Coffins moved to Newport in 1826 from North Carolina. Growing up in a staunch anti-slavery family and involved in the escape of enslaved Africans in Guildford County, North Carolina, the Coffins coordinated an Underground Railroad effort among free Blacks and Quakers living in, and around, Newport. Eliza did not step foot in the Coffin home where it stands today. Rather, she would have stayed in the Coffins’ first house in Newport, one block south where Levi’s dry goods store originally stood.
In 1839, Levi Coffin had a new Federal-style home built for his wife and family. Eventually earning the nickname as the “Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad,” the home became an important stop for many freedom seekers bound for Canada. By the time the Coffins moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1847, they impacted the lives of over one thousand freedom seekers, including Eliza and her child.
Levi Coffin wrote an autobiography published in 1876 called Reminiscences of Levi Coffin. He describes what brought him to a life dedicated to ending slavery. In chapter five of the memoir, Coffin describes Eliza and her child coming to his home in Newport where they stayed for several days. Levi does not give any details of what experiences Eliza and her child had while in the care of the Coffins. Her visit appears to be one where rest was the priority after such a trying escape and journey into Indiana to elude capture.
Levi writes that Eliza, along with several other freedom seekers who arrived at his home, were led via the Greenville branch of the Underground Railroad. The Greenville Settlement sat on the Indiana and Ohio state line north of Newport. Levi later recounts how in 1854 he and Catharine reunited with Eliza when the Coffins made a trip to Chatham, Canada. It is here that readers learn that Catharine Coffin is the one who gave Eliza the name we know her by today, one she kept as part of her new identity as a free woman.