'Eliza Harris'

'Eliza Harris' was the name later given to an unknown slave sheltered by Levi Coffin after a precarious escape on trecharous ice floes with her baby. The event was retold to Harriet Beecher Stowe, who based her character, Eliza Harris, upon the slave in her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Levi Coffin and his wife thereafter referred to the unknown slave as Eliza Harris.

See below to learn more about Eliza Harris.
Background:
Levi Coffin recalled in his memoirs Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad, that the slave referred to as Eliza Harris had been from Kentucky, owned by a kindly master. However, when Eliza Harris' master was in debt, he announced that she was to be separated from her remaining child; a two year old infant.

The Escape:
Eliza Harris escaped at night and made her way to the Ohio river, which had frozen over. Though she had expected this, she did not realise that the ice had already started to break and drift in pieces. The following day was no better, and on the third day, as slave hunters were close to her trail, she made the decision to risk crossing the ice.

The slave hunters caught sight of her as she ran for the river, holding her child to her chest. Resolving to succeed or die trying rather than be separated from her infant, she jumped on to a large chunk of ice, hopping from piece to piece, despite the ice sinking beneath her on occasion. When this happened, she would push her child on to the next piece of ice and pull herself out of the freezing water.

A man on the other side of the bank scrambled to help her when she reached him, amazed at the proceedings. He directed her to a place of safety nearby where she received dry clothing before being taken to an Underground Railroad station. Some stations down the line, she met Levi Coffin at his house in Newport where she stayed for several days before leaving with her child and a new batch of slaves.


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