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Canadian History for Kids: John Fairfield and Levi Coffin

This Canadian History for Kids exclusive looks at the heroic deeds of two men, John Fairfield and Levi Coffin, who were conductors on the Underground Railroad. This story is a apart of our continuing Black History Month series.

John Fairfield

Hailing from a slaveholding family in Virginia, Fairfield, who disliked slavery, became involved in the Underground Railroad when he helped a slave friend escape to Canada. Subsequently other black people, presumably in the Ohio area where he spent a lot of time, sought him out and paid him to help their relatives and friends escape.

Posing as a slaveholder, a slave trader, and sometimes a peddler, Fairfield was able to gain the confidence of whites, which made it easier for him to lead runaway slaves to freedom. One of his most impressive feats was freeing 28 slaves by staging a funeral procession. While he led many of his charges to Canada, others he delivered to Levi Coffin, who handled the remainder of their escape.

During a twelve-year period, he would make numerous trips to almost every slave state freeing several thousand slaves and forwarding them to Canada via agents of the Underground Railroad. He disappeared shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. An unidentified man fitting Fairfield’s description reportedly died during a slave rebellion in Cumberland County, Tennessee in 1860 or 1861.

Levi Coffin

Sometimes called “the President of the Underground Railroad,” for nearly 20 years, Coffin and his wife Catharine used their strategic location in southern Indiana, the modern-day Fountain City, to help more than 2,000 former slaves escape to freedom. A successful merchant, Coffin personally helped finance many Underground Railroad efforts.

So many fugitive slaves came through his home that people renamed it “Grand Central Station.” Coffin’s reputation as a model citizen inspired other white people to become involved with the Underground Railroad. His 1847 relocation to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he died many years later, didn’t end his Underground Railroad activities.

Keep following Canadian History for Kids, as we continue to bring you articles for our Black History Month special.

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