A review of Levi’s ‘The Underground Railroad’

A review of Levi’s ‘The Underground Railroad’

What is the author’s primary argument/thesis?

‘The Underground Railroad’ by Levi Coffin entails the legendary network of homes and other facilities that aided in the successful escape of slaves from the slave holding southern states to freedom in the states to the North, in addition towards Canada. This was a tough era for African American slaves known as Niggers/ Negros, who toiled for 6 days, from morning until late in the evening, at their slave-owners estates. Human conditions were dire being worsened by their treatment, because of the existent laws (Coffin).

Perceived as ‘less than human’, the slaves would be treated in the most inhumane ways leading to the ‘revolutionary stand’ that is best espoused by the existent Underground Railroad. The major theme/ argument, revolutionary change/ reaction, represents the actions and experiences of not only the escaping slaves, but also that of the conductors, abolitionists, railway activists and other individuals who aided in this remarkable fete. Support for this ideal, is entailed in the following sections.

Evidence of Support the Author gives to defend and/or prove the Argument/Thesis

This revolutionary perspective was necessitated by the slow process of change meant to change the existent laws, despite the increasing costs of suffering which the slave community experienced. Thus, this ideal led to the resultant network of secret ‘safe houses’ and routes both towards the North and into Mexico.       Levi’s guiding principal was based on his divine endeavor to fulfill the Bible’s injunctions, his life placed in the Almighty’s hands. Divine interpretation thus, enhanced the revolutionary measures that were laced with great risks and unknown eventualities (Coffin).

Though his business suffered because of fewer customers due to his slave-aiding activities, he was soon to recover, his business prospects increasing. This was due to an increase in settlements to the north of his town, and also because of higher volumes of emigrants; thus his business sales increased beyond his wildest expectations. This being a proof of the ‘divine guidance’ present in his slave-aiding endeavors. His home’s central location, to three principal lines from the south, best placed him in fulfilling his divine role; with the resultant consequences notwithstanding. Further encouraging him was the present role of others, both whites and blacks (specifically abolitionists) and conductors, who took great steps in aiding the fleeing slaves (Coffin).

The Strengths of the Article

The article’s strengths include the abovementioned, and the variant of slaves who were aided successfully out of the south. Young ladies would volunteer in making clothing, food and beverages for the frequent ‘guests’ who would often be weary, hungry and lacking in proper clothing. Also aiding in the above was the presence of various associations/ organizations primarily focused on anti-slave matters, such as the ‘Anti-Slavery Sewing Society’ among others.  Further encouraging was the presence of Dr. Way, a warm and friendly man, who cared for the slaves and engaged in similar anti-slavery issues, matters or activities (Coffin).

With time, Levi’s neighborhood grew into a slave-loving and aiding community, though his home continued being the ‘main depot/ safe-house’. The existence of white abolitionists and friends as best espoused by John Fairfield, further strengthens the article; as they were critical to the successful passage of many a black slave throughout southern territory. Furthermore, the existence of colored people and other blacks, readily available to aid, hid and provide for fugitives, is a further strength of this article as is espoused by John Hatfield (a Baptist church deacon) and Jonathan Cable (a Presbyterian minister).  These provide perfect examples of ‘divine will/ guidance’ in the activities that enabled slave-fugitives gain freedom (Coffin).

Another great strength of the article is the successful transfer of 28 fleeing fugitives, who being mostly women and children, necessitated a slow but sure passage through tough territory and bad environments. Their care, clothing and feeding by the town’s people collectively, exhibits a sense of togetherness, neighborliness and compassion. Trust is also deeply espoused through the various contacts/ persons who assumed these dangerous activities/ actions. It is strengthened further by the correct/ proper linkage of passageways as espoused by the different routes given. These include one from Cincinnati, from Jeffersonville and from Madison, these passing through towards the more socially cohesive ‘North’ (Coffin).

The Weaknesses of the Article

From the article, I can point to some weaknesses including the specifications as to the time/ dates of events. There are none mentioned, only a description of time frames, such as 1826-1827 winter season, during which great aid was provided in the ‘transportation, and successful delivery’ of fugitive slaves. In addition to that is the lack of concrete numbers as to the estimates of successfully freed slaves, as only an overview exists of the events/ undertakings endured and resultant accomplishments (Coffin).

In conclusion, Levi is credited as being one of the key leaders of the ‘Underground Railway’ movement, who successfully aided the repatriation of an estimated 3000 plus slave refugees. Furtherance, is the presence of various accounts, as pertaining to the legendary movement which is widely celebrated as having catalyzed the ‘reform era’ as pertaining to American history. Not content to waiting, he, and other like-minded individuals, took it upon themselves to set perfect examples as to the best path to be taken; divine interpretation solidly strengthening their will and strive for success.


Work Cited

Coffin, Levi. “The Underground Railroad.” National Centre, 1850. http://www.nationalcenter.org/UndergroundRailroad.html. 25 February 2013



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