The Underground Railroad Painting

The Underground Railroad painting (1893) was painted by Charles Webber. It shows abolitionists helping slaves escape to Canada. The abolitionists are Levi Coffin, Catherine Coffin and Hannah Haydock, right to left; the other abolitionists and the slaves are unknown. The scene takes place at Levi Coffin’s farm outside Cincinnati in mid-winter. First exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair, the work caused a sensation. It also inspired Wilbur Henry Siebert to write The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, the earliest scholarly book on the subject. The painting is in oil. It hangs now in the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Levi Coffin, a Friend, was known as the “President of the Underground Railroad” and assisted over 3000 slaves to escape. Catherine Coffin and Hannah Haydock, also Friends, were active in the Underground Railroad, too.

The Underground Railroad painting is a stirring, epic work. As well, it could almost be a photograph of an actual escape. Charles Webber, a friend of the Coffins, also participated in the Underground Railroad. Fascinatingly, the man holding the horses’ reins resembles a self-portrait of Webber. He may have painted himself into the picture.

Gary Sandman

April 2022

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