There was another man whose name, the author thinks, properly belongs under the heading of this chapter, and to whom, on account of pleasant personal recollections, he would like to refer. He was not a fighter like Blair and Lane, with whom his life was in striking contrast. He was essentially a man of peace. He was a Quaker. Although born in Kentucky he was an Abolitionist. I now refer to Levi Coffin of Cincinnati, who was credited with successfully assisting over three thousand runaway slaves on their way to freedom, and, in consequence, became distinguished among both friends and foes as the “President of ‘The Underground Railroad.’” The most remarkable thing in his case was his immunity from legal punishment. The slaveholders knew very well what he was doing, but so expert was he in hiding his tracks that they could never get their clutches upon him.
I had rather an amusing experience with Coffin. Having when a boy heard so much about him, I was anxious to see him and make his acquaintance. On the occasion of a visit to Cincinnati, with a letter of introduction from an acquaintance of Coffin, I went to his office, but not without trepidation. I found the great man engaged in a conversation with some one, his back being toward me, as I took my stand just inside of his door. How he became aware of my presence I don’t know—I certainly made no noise to attract him—but he certainly knew I was there. Suspending the conversation in which he was engaged—he was seated in a revolving chair—he suddenly turned so as to confront me, and silently looked me over. At last he arose, and, stepping up to me, lifted my hat with one hand, and laid the other upon my head. I understood very well what his movements meant. He was looking for outward evidences of negro blood. So far as my complexion went a suspicion of African taint might very well have been entertained. I had been assisting my father in harvesting his wheat crop, and my face and hands had a heavy coating of tan, but my hair was straight and stiff. I could see that the old gentleman was puzzled. Not a word, so far, had been spoken on either side.
“Where is thee from?” was the question that broke the silence.
I answered that I was from Clark County, meaning Clark County, Ohio.
Coffin, however, evidently thought I referred to Clark County, Kentucky, from which there had been many fugitives, and that settled the matter in his mind. “But, my boy, thee seems to have had a good home,” continued the old gentleman as he looked over my clothes and general appearance. “Why is thee running away?”
Then came the explanation and the solemn Quaker indulged in a hearty laugh. He remarked that he knew my family very well by reputation, and that he had met my father in Abolitionist conventions—meetings he called them.
Then he invited me to go to his home and break bread with him. I vainly tried to decline. The old man would accept no excuse.