Randolph County and the War Between the States
Part 3: The Underground Railroad
This week we feature some of our classmates’ connections to the
Civil War, along with some background information on the
“Underground Railroad”. The “Underground Railroad” was a
network of escape routes, transportation, safe houses, supplies
and methods used by abolitionists to help southern slaves escape
Thornburg: My Family’s Participation in the Civil War
Shallow-bottom wagon displayed at the Levi Coffin house, donated
by Marvin Thornburg in 1969.
There were 89
Thornburg‘s registered with the Indiana Militia during the Civil
War. None of which are my direct ancestors. Well, you ask, if
this is true, what was your family’s participation in the “Civil
I descend from a long line of Thornburg’s who have been Quakers
since this religious sect was founded in the mid 1600’s.
“Quakers” is actually a nickname given to the followers of
George Fox. Officially, we are called “ The Society of
Friends” or just “Friends”.
Quakers, as a whole, are pacifists. They do not believe in
taking arms against one’s brothers. They do, and did, however,
participate in war via peacemaking, life giving duties
(chaplains, medics, doctors, etc.).
Charles Thornburgh, my great grandfather to the 9th
(born about 1645 in Methop, England) was a member of the Church
of England until he met George Fox. He immediately forsook the
Church of England in favor of the Friends.
His son, Robert immigrated to Ireland because of religious and
political oppression and settled in the Cootehill area in about
1686. Robert’s son, Edward, immigrated to America about 1717
for the same reasons his father had left England. After
arriving in America, he settled in Pennsylvania.
Joseph, the son of Edward, was born in Pennsylvania about 1728
and later moved to North Carolina. Edward’s son, Isaac, was
born in Guilford County, North Carolina in 1773. He later moved
to Highland County Ohio.
Joab (born 1795), Isaac’s son, was born in Ohio. Joab’s son,
Isaac William, was also born in Ohio in 1822. Isaac, Joab and
Isaac William all moved to Randolph County, Indiana about 1824.
One of the primary beliefs of the Society of Friends is that a
direct experience with God is available to all people. This
included slaves. Therefore, in the late 1600’s, Quakers began
to free the slaves they held. This idea was not accepted by all
Americans at the time, especially in North Carolina where a lot
of Quakers had settled. Therefore, many Quakers relocated to
the free states of Ohio and Indiana.
In 1969, my grandfather, Marvin, donated a false-bottomed wagon
to the Levi Coffin House Museum in Fountain City, Indiana (a
station along the Underground Railroad). He became aware of
this wagon while “shucking” corn with his grandfather, Joab
Alexander, the son of Isaac William. This wagon was used to
transport runaway slaves by hiding them in a secret
compartment. The age of this wagon was authenticated by David
Swartz and Son of Berne, Indiana as they had been hired to
restore the wagon in 1969. They stated that this was by far the
oldest wagon they had ever seen.
This wagon was also featured in a documentary filmed by the
History Channel in 2001, called, “Secret Passages“. The segment
was filmed on location at the Levi Coffin House, and several
minutes of the broadcast highlighted the construction and use of
There were no written records of the participants in the
Underground Railroad. It was illegal to house or transport
runaway slaves. Anyone participating could be arrested and
imprisoned. Therefore, I have no proof that my great, great,
great grandparents or my great, great, great, great grandparents
were conductors on the Under Ground Railroad. But, I will
always remember the pride in my grandfather’s voice as he spoke
to me about the Underground Railroad.
The Levi Coffin House
In his family story, Dan explains why many Quakers from North
Carolina ultimately picked-up and moved their families to the
Midwest. Abolitionist beliefs were not well-accepted in North
Carolina ---- particularly from the piedmont area on east to the
coast --- so many Quaker families resettled to Indiana and Ohio,
where they escaped the institution of slavery, and found better
farmland in the bargain.
One of the Quakers to migrate from North Carolina was Levi
Coffin and his wife, Catharine, with their young son. Levi
Coffin was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, in 1798. He
married Catharine White in 1824, and in 1826 they relocated to
the village of Newport, Indiana (now Fountain City) in northern
Shortly after the Coffins relocated to Newport, Levi Coffin
learned that many escaped slaves passed through the area on
their way to Canada. There was a small community of free blacks
nearby that provided assistance to the escapees, and Levi Coffin
joined in their efforts.
The Levi Coffin House and Museum, shown below, was constructed
in 1839. It was originally an 8-room house built in the
Levi Coffin House, Fountain City, Indiana
Levi and Catharine housed up to 17 escaped slaves at one time,
and in the 20 years they lived in Newport it is said they helped
over 2,000 slaves escape to Canada.
Slaves were often
transported by wagon, carriage, or on horseback. Traveling at
night, most just walked, covering up to 20 miles. Winter was the
most popular season for escapes because of the shorter daylight
hours. The cold weather also meant fewer people out and about.
Levi and Catharine would keep runaway slaves at their home,
providing them with food, water, clothing and medical
assistance. Those who were in good health were sent on as soon
as possible; others might remain in the Coffin home for several
days or weeks if they arrived in ill health.
ultimately became known as the “President” of the Underground
Railroad. He worked to spread abolitionism and
abolitionist societies in Indiana and Ohio.
He found other like-minded people in Newport and the surrounding
area and convinced them to help him and Catharine in their work.
Levi Coffin made another important contribution to the
Abolitionist Movement. He was the owner of a successful store
in Newport that featured Free Labor Goods. “Free Labor Goods”
were goods that were produced using non-slave labor. He worked
with other abolitionists in the east and pretty soon Free Labor
Goods were being featured in stores as far away as New York. In
1847, Levi and Catharine moved to Cincinnati to open a Free
Labor Goods store there, but the house in Newport remained in
their possession until they sold it in 1860. In Cincinnati,
they continued their work and helped up to 1,300 more slaves
The Levi Coffin House was named a National Historic Landmark in
1965, and was purchased by the state of Indiana in 1967. It has
been operated as a museum since 1969, and is a site well worth
visiting along the road between Winchester and Richmond. June
through August the museum is open afternoons, 1 to 4 pm, Tuesday
The photos shown here are from the following excellent web site
about the Levi Coffins:
Moorman Brindel: The Moorman Family in Early Randolph County
History of early Randolph County is entangled in the
abolitionist movement and the civil war.
In 1816, The Moorman, Diggs and Way families, abolitionist
Quakers from Richmond, North Carolina, sent a scouting party to
the twelve mile territory to find a spot to bring their
families. They chose an area that sits between what is now
Farmland and Winchester. In 1818, the families came in covered
wagon across the Cumberland Gap and settled into the area.
Over the next two generations, the families established a strong
economic, political and social base for the Underground
Railroad. Moorman Way was the area lawyer who represented in
court any slave that was captured. It is the oral tradition in
the family that he never lost a case.
Moorman was a member of the Indiana state legislature. In 1861,
when the legislature had enough votes to vote to secede from the
union, John and several other state senators went into hiding in
the underground rail road system to prevent a quorum from being
formed, thus preventing the secessionist vote from being able to
John Moorman and others from the area worked hand-in-hand with
Governor Morton to support the efforts of the Union.
(Editor’s note: The Bethel AME Church, shown above, was a major
depot in the Underground Railroad system. We might speculate
that this church was one of the “hiding places” used by John
Moorman and his friends.)
War monument in the Winchester town square was placed there by
the Moorman family to honor those who fought for peace and
justice through both the taking up of arms, and the laying down
of their lives and fortunes.
The Thornburg, Coffin and Moorman families were all friends from
back in North Carolina. My family financed the site and did
the legal work for that branch.
My dad called them Aunt Katie and Uncle Levi (my dad was born
One of the most famous and successful “conductors” on the
Underground Railroad was an escaped slave named Harriet Tubman.
She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820 with the given
name of Araminta Ross, and was commonly known as “Minty”.
Minty was very badly treated as a child. At one point, she took
a severe blow to the head that left her unconscious for two
days. She never received medical attention, and was subject to
seizures and “blackouts” for the rest of her life. Like many
slaves, Minty was deeply religious and when, after the incident,
she started having vivid dreams and “awakenings” she considered
these episodes to be leadings from God.
Minty married a free black man named John Tubman in 1844, and
changed her name to Harriet. Marriages between slaves and free
people were common in Maryland, where about half of the black
population was free. They were probably planning to raise
enough money to buy Harriet’s freedom; in the meantime, however,
the law said that any children would follow the status of their
mother --- meaning her children would be slaves.
By 1849, Harriet had decided to take the matter
her freedom into her own hands. “There was one of two things I
had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I
would have the other.” Late in September, she and her
brothers Harry and Ben ran away and headed for Pennsylvania.
Their owner, Eliza Brodess, advertised a reward of up to $100
for the return of each slave if they were captured outside of
Maryland; $50 for each slave captured within Maryland.
Her brothers soon experienced doubts about leaving their wives
and children behind, and decided to turn back. They made
Harriet go back with them.
The next time she decided to escape, Harriet left her brothers
Traveling alone at night, following the North Star, and using
the resources of the Underground Railroad network, she
ultimately found herself in Pennsylvania. “When I first crossed
that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same
person. There was such a glory over everything.”
In 1850, Congress toughened the Fugitive Slave Law --- imposing
harsh penalties on people who were aiding escapees, forcing
authorities in free states to cooperate with “Slave Catchers”
and making it dangerous for escaped slaves to remain in the free
states. This resulted in many escaped slaves going on to Canada
and made the practice of bounty-hunting even more lucrative for
the “Slave Catchers”.
made connections in Philadelphia. Motivated
by her family’s situation back in Maryland, the harshness of the
Fugitive Slave Law, and her belief that she was acting under
divine guidance, she determined to go back to Maryland and bring
out her family. Late in 1850, she went to Baltimore and hid
with her husband John’s brother. A few days later, her niece
Kessiah’s family stole away to Baltimore, and Harriet led them
back to Pennsylvania.
She made additional trips to Maryland in 1850 and 1851, bringing
out family members and others, until she returned to Maryland in
late 1851 to bring out her husband John. However, John had
remarried and opted to remain with his new wife, so Harriet
found some other slaves who wanted to escape and led them out to
Pennsylvania. In December, 1851, she led a group of 11 escaped
slaves to Canada, staying at the home of former slave and
well-known Abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
All told, Harriet
Tubman made nineteen trips into the south and helped upwards of 300 people escape
to freedom between 1849 and 1860. Her adventures encouraged
others, and she gained more
and more confidence with each trip.
Harriet quickly became known by the nickname “Moses” after the
Old Testament prophet who led the Hebrews to freedom. Late in
life, she told people, “I was conductor on the Underground
Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors
can’t say: I never ran my train off the track and I never lost
She always carried a gun, to protect herself from the Slave
Catchers and their dogs. The gun also enforced discipline;
nobody who signed-on to leave with Harriet was allowed to turn
When one of her “passengers” had a change of heart, and wanted
to turn back, she would threaten with the gun, saying, “You’ll
live FREE or die.”
Harriet Tubman led a full life. After the Civil War started,
she worked as a nurse in coastal South Carolina, and following
emancipation in 1863, became the first woman to lead a military
assault during the war. Later in life, she organized with Susan
B. Anthony for Women’s Suffrage, and started a home for “aged
and indigent colored people” in her adopted home town of Auburn,
New York. Harriet Tubman never received a penny for her work
during and after the war, and though rich in experiences, she
lived in poverty. Harriet Tubman died of pneumonia in 1913, in
the rest home she established.
Underground Railroad Station in Winchester?
I did have distant relatives who fought in the Civil War but
weren't from Indiana. My Mother’s family are from
Virginia-Kentucky and my Dad’s family from Portland, Indiana.
So nothing on that subject.
However, on the underground railroad side, our house which was
built in 1853 was supposedly used by the underground railroad up
and thru the Civil War. We were not totally sure but we had a
number of folks from the County come out over the years and tell
some research, I have found there is confirming information
at the Indiana State Library about our house with a picture
taken in the mid to late 1860's. The information
confirms that there is a very strong likelihood that the
house was used for the Underground Railroad and was the next
stop after Levi Coffin's home. The next stop was
supposedly somewhere south of Portland and then Ft. Wayne.
Our house, like the Coffin house, has a large cistern in the
basement and several recessed areas under the floors which,
until all this came up, we couldn't figure out why they was
Also, the house and barns were used by the Union Army as
it's headquarters for that entire area of Eastern Indiana
and Western Ohio. The location next to the main Railroads of
the New York Central and the B & O Railroad, made it an
ideal location. Our barns still have horse stalls for many
horses and we also had a very large commercial scale which
was used by the Army to weigh feed etc. it was buying from
the local farmers for the horses and other livestock.
Dad and Randy have the original scale weights etc. which are
dated before the Civil War.
Photos of shallow bottom wagon,
Levi Coffin House, bedroom, and basement well, all published
on the website
WayNet.org and the Levi Coffin House Association.
Photo of Bethel AME Church
published by the National Park Service at
Map of Routes of the Underground
Railroad from Wikipedia Commons at
and first published in 1895.
Newspaper advertisement, and
undated photos of Harriet Tubman, from Wikipedia and taken
from the site
Photo of the Hahn home in
Winchester courtesy of Fred Lawson.
Quotations from Harriet Tubman:
Quoted on Wikipedia from
Bradford, Sarah, Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People.
New York: Corinth Books, 1961.
Quoted on Wikipedia from
Bradford, Sarah, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman.
Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.
Quoted on Wikipedia from Clinton,
Catherine, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. New
York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.
Indiana State Museum Historic Sites, “Levi Coffin Home,”
(accessed May 9, 2009).
National Park Service, “Aboard the Underground Railroad: Bethel
May 10, 2009).
National Park Service, “Aboard the Underground Railroad: Levi
May 10, 2009).
WayNet Community Network Association, “Levi Coffin House: Grand
Central Station of the Underground Railroad”,
May 11, 2009).
Wikipedia contributors, “Harriet Tubman,” Wikipedia, The Free
(accessed May 10, 2009).
Wikipedia contributors, “The Underground Railroad,” Wikipedia,
The Free Encyclopedia,
May 10, 2009).
We invite class
members to share information about ancestors who participated in
the Civil War and/or Underground Railroad. This
information will be posted on the site June 27, 2009.
Please forward your information to the webmaster. Thank