TWO SIDES OF THE SPECTRUM
Though many individuals in the antebellum United States felt slavery was an abomination, few felt so strongly about it that they would risk their livelihood or wellbeing to fight for abolition. Those who sought change most avidly often drew inspiration from personal life-changing experiences or their engrained beliefs. Anti-slavery operations such as the Underground Railroad could not have functioned on such a large scale without the financial and organizational support given by wealthy citizens such as Levi Coffin. Others who had experienced slavery firsthand, like Harriet Tubman, felt that it was their duty to risk all the freedom they had won to help their enslaved family and comrades. In addition to freeing slaves and fighting to end slavery, these individuals became symbols of bravery and fortitude, giving inspiration to other abolitionists and sympathizers. Tubman and Coffin worked primarily in different time periods and geographical locations, but both were motivated to break slavery laws by their religious beliefs and their childhood experiences with the horrors of slavery. Even after the emancipation of the slaves in 1863, there was something within these two that kept them fighting for equality and justice. Levi Coffin grew up in the heart of slave-owning America, on a farm in New Garden, North Carolina. He was born on October 28, 1798 into a devout Quaker family, who believed that slavery conflicted with the teachings of their religion. Clearly his parents’ teachings and the influence of the Quaker community had a lasting effect on Levi, since he knew from a very young age that he was morally opposed to slavery, claiming “I date my conversion to Abolitionism from an incident which occurred when I was about seven years old.” Working on his father’s farm with no assistance from slave labor, he developed an appreciation for hard work and often found himself interacting with local slaves. He received very little formal education, which is astonishing, given the degree of business success he would experience later in life. Through his teenage years he helped his parents by caring for escaping slaves who had sought refuge on their farm. Unfortunately, the toughening enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act led to public disdain for the Quakers, who defied the government’s laws to pursue what they perceived to be the morally righteous path. To avoid increasing persecution from slaveholders who suspected them of aiding runaways, the majority of Quakers in the Coffins’ community packed up their things and moved northwest to Indiana, in a similar fashion to their relatives who had emigrated from England years ago. Indiana was a part of the Northwest Territory, where slavery had been made illegal with the passing of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. Therefore, the Coffins could resume their abolitionist work in relative safety. The religious persecution experienced by Levi and his forefathers must have served as a strong reminder of the society’s tendencies to mistreat groups of people and individuals who look, think, or act differently. Levi Coffin gained inspiration from Quaker teachings and used his family’s substantial resources to help those whom he felt could not help themselves, whereas Harriet Tubman drew courage and strength from her experiences as a slave to aid her family and friends. Born into slavery around 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland, Araminta Harriet Ross would eventually become one of the most famous female abolitionists of all time. Since her mother had duties to attend to in the plantation house of her owner Mary Pattison Brodess and her father was owned by another family, she was often the only one around to look after her younger siblings. She was also sent to work for both her parents’ owners’ families and other local families from time to time. She was put to work in the woods and fields, where she became strong and acquired valuable skills she would utilize later...
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