Posted in History

White Abolitionists

These individuals sought the immediate and full emancipation of all enslaved people. Most early abolitionists were white, religious Americans, but some of the most prominent leaders of the movement were also Black men and women who had escaped from bondage.

John Rankin

A Presbyterian minister who migrated from Tennessee 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. 

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

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 of 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,, (accessed November 26, 2012).

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White Abolitionists


Versatile Christian Blogger, wife of Minister Woods, mother of 3, grandmother of 3.

10 thoughts on “White Abolitionists

  1. I’m so thankful for these men! We were all created equal! Tangie, have you seen the movie, “Harriet”? It was so beautifully made and the music score was amazing. I’m so glad I was taught about evil of slavery and especially learned God’s value of us all. I don’t understand racists. I never will. God bless you! There’s so much education needed! 💛

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    1. Hi Karla, indeed, this is a very short lists. Lord willing I will be sharing more about White / Black abolitionists next month. I saw the movie “Harriet.” Sadly, Satan conquered the mind of people of all races so they are destined to spend eternity in Hell. I am amazed of the unknown/ hidden Black history. My eyes are opened to a world of information and I am soaking it up like a sponge. It sure help being married to a history major, a walking history book. Hope you had a good day.

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      1. Hi, Tangie! I smiled reading your response. My Dad first taught history and that was my first major before going into special education. I’m a forever history lover. You so eloquently share the truth! Satan has conquered minds of all races. I’ll keep supporting you dear sister. I woke up early in pain~3 am. I spoke to the Father on your behalf too early. May he continue to wrap us in his healing love! 💚💕❤️

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      2. Your dad and my husband would have talked for hours. Special education is dear to me, our 25-year-old-son was diagnosed with Autism when he was two. I appreciate your encouragement and support, Karla. I hate you are still having to endure so much pain. I appreciate your continued prayers and I will do the same for you. Yes, may He continue to wrap us in His loving arms.

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      3. This response blesses my heart so much. Please give my best to both special men in your life. Your prayers mean so much. We are so blessed to feel and accept God’s love and healing!

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  2. Great post, it is amazing how many people feel it is okay to have slaves we are all created by God and that there is only one race which is the human race.

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      1. Amen, the Garden of Eden is in Africa and when I check out my own blood line with Ancestry I do have some African blood in myself as well. Some have a better tan than me (ha!)

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