Sunday, September 14, 2014

SEPTEMBER 14, 1814

200 years ago today Matthew Coffin was granted title to the northwest quarter of Section 12, T2N, R4E.  The location of this land today is north of Canton where Coombs Road enters SR 56.  This land patent was the sixth of eight that Matthew Coffin would purchase from the U S government between January 11, 1811 and December 9, 1822. 

His first 2 land patents were registered when he was still a resident of Guilford County, NC.  They were located in the southwest quarters of Sections 3 and 4 in T2N, R4E with the title being granted on January 11, 1811. These tracts were located today at the southwest corner of Bowsman Road and Trueblood road and southwest of where Jim Day Road crosses Brock Creek.  The first of these 1811 tracts was by the trail that led from Royse’s Lick to the summer camp of Old Ox located at the base of the Knobs near the Muscatatuck River at the northwest edge of Elk Creek Bottoms. His third land patent was on the Middle Fork of Blue River in the southeast quarter of Section 4, T1N, R4E.  This land is found today in Pierce Township just northeast of the bridge below the Blue River Christian Church. His fourth and fifth land titles were purchased from Moses Hoggatt who had originally registered them.  These two tracts were located in Section 4, T2N, R4E, immediately east of his land on Brock creek and in Section 9, T2N, R4E, within sight of Royse’s Lick.  His seventh title acquisition was at a more remote location from early settlement in the southeast quarter of Section 14, T3N, R2E.  This tract contained the source of Clifty Creek which gushed forth from a spring and appeared to Coffin to be a good location for a mill if access could be gained to the valley.  This today is Cave River Valley.

Matthew Coffin was a Quaker who was born on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts in 1754.  His parents, William and Priscilla Paddock Coffin, moved from Nantucket to the Quaker settlements in North Carolina in the early 1770s as some of the islanders were concerned about their status should war between the colonies and Great Britain occur.  Matthew and Hannah Mendenhall Coffin were part of the large Quaker contingent that came to the Indiana Territory from North Carolina as their practice of purchasing the freedom of slaves was challenged by laws enacted by the State of North Carolina after its independence.  The number of Friends that settled near Royse’s Lick increased dramatically after Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of Thames in 1813.  At that time, the only recognized Quaker meeting in the area was at Lick Creek near the Vincennes Road.  Travel to and from meetings at Lick Creek consumed most of the day.  As Matthew Coffin was the owner of many choice locations in the level uplands northeast of the new Washington County seat of government, he was approached about donating a site for a new Friends meeting house if the Lick Creek Meeting would indulge the formation of a new meeting.  This occurred in 1814 and the Coffins donated the land.  The Blue River Friends Meetinghouse was built in 1815 and still stands today.

Matthew Coffin was the uncle of Levi Coffin, Jr. who came to the Indiana Territory from North Carolina in the mid-1820s. Levi Coffin, Jr. settled in Wayne County, Indiana and became the most famous abolitionist in Indiana.  His activity in the Underground Railroad was well known and his home was a major station of this clandestine network.  He was popularly called the “President” of the Underground Railroad and after slavery was abolished wrote a book where his experiences in facilitating the freedom of fugitive slaves were described in great detail. Washington County, Indiana has a tradition of the involvement of the Blue River Friends in the Underground Railroad.  Some historians have opined that this tradition of the Underground Railroad in Washington County has been greatly overstated.  No one disputes the role of Levi Coffin, Jr. in the Underground Railroad.  The fact that he had several close relatives in Washington County certainly makes it probable that the Underground Railroad was indeed active in our community.  

                                  RIVER CAVE AT CAVE RIVER VALLEY
                               LAND PATENT OF MATTHEW COFFIN 1815

                                        BLUE RIVER FRIENDS MEETINGHOUSE TODAY
                                        LAND DONATED BY MATTHEW COFFIN 1814

                                                               LEVI COFFIN, JR.
                                                    NEPHEW OF MATTHEW COFFIN

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