The Mysterious Road:

The Mysterious Road is a historical narration by Levin Coffin describing his involvement in the Underground Railroad in Newport, Indiana between 1820 and 1850 in his Reminiscences

publication of 1876, (Clarke, 2009). This essay looks at some of its historical contexts and some points highlighted by the document.

Between the years 1820 and 1850, an underground railroad was constructed which served as an escape route for slaves. About 100 to 1000 slaves would escape through the route every year, where they would travel at night and hind during the day. Levi Coffin who was a shopkeeper and a manufacturer of linseed oil in Newport also worked on the Underground Railroad for several years.

At Newport, there lived free colored descendants of slaves freed years ago form North Carolina. These descendants could not protect the fugitive slaves who sought refuge from them or assist them to free since they feared penalty of the law. Coffin and his wife was sympathetic to the harassed fugitive slaves and based on what they learnt form the Bible, they housed and helped them.

The number of slaves seeking refuge at Coffin’s house increased with time and the neighbors who were formerly afraid of receiving the slaves started contributing resources to the slaves and helped them to connect to their escape journeys. They were encouraged by the fact that Coffin was not afraid of the law penalty which they feared. Some neighbors however were against Coffin’s efforts in view that he risked spoiling his family and business and suffer the wrath of the slave-hunters.

The Mysterious Road

Levi was firm in his faith on the Bible teachings about helping the needy and he believed what he did was justified and approved by God, and that God would protect his life from any harm. He never minded losing his business at the expense of helping the slaves. Coffin was ready to help the slaves despite the fact that he didn’t know what crime they might have committed basing his argument on the incidence of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. Coffin lost most of his customers and his business withered but his faith stood and he continued helping the slaves. Later his business blossomed and many people settled around them. They continuously helped to channel the slaves saving them from their predators. He became well known in the area as he and his wife continued to receive and forward the fugitives.

Coffin and his wife spent more than 20 years at Newport helping the slaves and they could receive an average of over 100 slaves annually. The slaves’ clothing need was met by the money Coffin raised and what the local young women sew. The slaves they received were often very destitute, hungry and cloth-less and they could retain them till clothes were made available, (Coffin, 2008). Coffin was never in the course frightened by the law penalty for helping the slaves and his fame grew in the entire area making his business to expand greatly. Those who had left his business began coming back.

The document shows that this historical era was characterized by slavery of the colored people, probably blacks, and they were torture and overworked. Stern laws and penalties seem to have been in place to deal with any person who would help the slaves escape and this made many locals not want to help the slaves. The law was not however as effective since Coffin and his wife managed to help the slaves for over 20 years and even influenced many locals into helping the slaves. The document also shows that Christianity was prominent in the area and some were strict followers, (Junius, 2008; Eckstein, 2006; Swain, 2001).


Coffin (2008). Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad: BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008

The Mysterious Road

Swain (2001). President of the Underground Railroad: A Story about Levi Coffin: Millbrook Press, 2001

Clarke (2009). Bibliotheca Americana 1883: Catalogue of a Valuable Collection of Books and

Pamphlets Relating to A: BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009

Junius (2007). Slavery in the United States: a social, political, and historical encyclopedia,

Volume 2: ABC-CLIO, 2007

Eckstein (2006). Re-membering the Black Atlantic: on the poetics and politics of literary

memory: Rodopi, 2006