John Rankin was a Presbyterian minister and educator who devoted much of his life to the antislavery movement. In 1826 he published an antislavery book, “Letters on American Slavery,” and in 1834 he founded the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. From 1825 to 1865 Rankin and his wife Jean sheltered more than 2,000 escaping slaves in Brown County, Ohio. The house sat on a high hill over the Ohio River, the border between the free state of Ohio and the slave state of Kentucky. A beacon in the attic window supposedly guided fleeing slaves across the river. Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the house in 1834, and John Rankin’s stories of escaping slaves influenced “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The Rankin house is a National Historic Landmark, and is now maintained by the Ohio Historical Society. Outside is a reconstruction of the stairway used by the fugitives to climb up to the house from the banks of the Ohio River.
The Underground Railroad is described by many historians as the most dramatic protest action against slavery in United States history. It was a loosely organized network of aid and escape routes provided by ordinary people to assist escaped slaves on their journeys to freedom. Beginning in the colonial period and continuing through the Civil War years, its participants included abolitionists, enslaved African-Americans, Native Americans and members of religious groups including Methodists, Baptists and Quakers. Indiana lauds two Quaker participants, Levi and Catharine Coffin, for their distinguished 20-year service on the railroad. Between 1826 and 1846, the Levis provided a freedom stop on the Underground Railroad. During those years, Fountain City was a predominantly Quaker community. It was a known refuge because many of its citizens shared anti-slavery sentiments, and it occupied a strategic location near the Ohio River crossings used by many escaped slaves. The Levis opened their home and offered a temporary respite, food, and encouragement to the escapees on their arduous journey. They are credited with assisting more than two thousand escapees reach freedom during the 20 years they lived in Fountain City. The Coffins’ 1839 National Historic Landmark home is open to visitors.
From 1877 to 1895, Frederick Douglass maintained a home in Anacostia, a neighborhood in the southeastern part of the District of Columbia. After escaping from slavery on the eastern shore of Maryland, Douglass had spent most of his career as an abolitionist in Rochester, where he published the famous periodical, North Star. Douglass moved to Washington, DC to publish New National Era, a periodical intended to serve as the voice of African Americans in the post-emancipation period. The project failed, however. Nevertheless, Douglass stayed in Washington, except for a period as U.S. minister to Haiti in 1889. He served in the Council of Government for the District of Columbia, and later as United States Marshal for the District. In 1877 he purchased the home, which he called Cedar Hill, and which is now the location of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.