White Abolitionists

John Rankin

John Rankin

John Rankin

A Presbyterian minister who migrated from Tennesee to Kentucky and finally settled in Ripely, Ohio, John Rankin became a leader in the Underground Railroad network that assisted runaway slaves.

Rankin was born on February 4, 1793, in Tennessee.

In Ripley, Rankin served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and opened his home to African Americans seeking freedom. His home stood on a three hundred-foot high hill that overlooked the Ohio River. Rankin would signal runaway slaves in Kentucky with a lantern, letting them know when it was safe for them to cross the river. He kept the runaways hidden until it was safe for them to travel further north. 

Rankin declared racial prejudice criminal and a violation of the “law of love.” and Rankin believed disobience to slavery was obiedence to God.

Levi Coffin

Levi Coffin

Levi Coffin

Levi Coffin is credited with organizing the Western white abolition movement.  Coffin moved to Madison, Indiana in 1826 and found fugitives passing through the area sought refuge among African Americans not whites.  White and free blacks looked upon each other with suspicions and it would only be in a few areas that they collaborated.  After organizing a streamlined network of assistance for fugitives in Indiana, Coffin moved to Cincinnati.  Upon moving to Cincinnati Coffin encountered the same experience as in Indiana.  The first point of contact for fugitive slaves was the African American community.  John Parker of Ripley, Ohio would be one of the few blacks willing to work with Coffin in Cincinnati.[1] 

Coffin formed the multi-racial Cincinnati Vigilance Committee which raised funds to conduct resistance.  Established in 1838, the Cincinnati Vigilance Committee maintained a budget and a board of directors.[2]  Many prominent white and black Ohioans were members of the Cincinnati Vigilance Committee.

 
Calvin Fairbank

Calvin Fairbank

Calvin Fairbank

With the assistance of Deila Webster, Calvin Fairbank assisted a fugitive's escape.  The following account taken from Leiv Coffin's describes Fairbanks ordeal.  

 "I left for Kentucky about the 24th August, 1844, and taking time to learn the best route and become acquainted with reliable sources of aid, I arrived in Lexington, Kentucky, on the first of September. Miss Delia Webster was then teaching in Lexington. I examined into the case of Berry's wife, the slave woman, whom I had come to aid, but it seemed doubtful whether I could succeed in getting her away. In the meantime Miss Webster told me of a slave man named Lewis Hayden, his wife, and son of ten years, who were very anxious to escape, and I resolved to aid them. Interviews were held and arrangements made, and on the night of September 28th, Miss Webster and I, waiting in a hired hack near the residence of Cassius M. Clay, on the outer part of the city, were joined by Hayden and wife and son. At Millersburg, twenty-four miles distant, we were detained nearly an hour, having to obtain another horse in the place of one of ours, which failed; and while here we were recognized by two colored men from Lexington. On their return they unwittingly started the report which afterwards led to our arrest. At nine o'clock the next morning we crossed the river at Maysville, Kentucky, and were soon safe in Ripley, Ohio. I conducted the fugitives to a depot of the Underground Railroad, where they took passage and reached Canada in safety."[3]

Upon return to Kentucky, Fairbank was arrested and spent seventeen years in prison.  Fairbank claimed he received over thirty-five thousand, one hundred and five stripes from the lash.

[1] Ann Hagedorn, Beyond the River (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 233.

[2] Blaine Hudson, Fugitive Slaves and The Underground Railroad in the Kentucky Borderland, (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2002), 121-122.

[3] "Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad," Documenting The American South,  http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/coffin.html#p719, (accessed November 26, 2012).
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