Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Ohio Moments


Abolitionist founded free church

On March 18, 1886, Rev. John Rankin, a leading abolitionist, died at the home of his granddaughter, Elizabeth Gray, in Ironton.

A Presbyterian minister and native of east Tennessee, Rankin came to Ohio from Kentucky in 1822 to serve a congregation in Ripley.

An ardent abolitionist, Rankin wrote a series of letters trying to persuade his brother, a slave-holder, to see the error of his ways. The letters were published in a book in 1826 and saw nine additional printings.

Frustrated that the Presbyterian Church refused to take a stand on abolition, Rankin founded the Free Presbyterian Church of America, which excluded slaveholders from membership, in 1847.

In 1851, Rankin helped found the American Reform Tract and Book Society, which published more than 200 books and tracts - many written by Rankin - during the Civil War.

The Free Presbyterian Church also printed its own newspaper, The Free Presbyterian, and founded Iberia (Ohio) College to educate fugitive slaves.

Rankin is perhaps best known for helping thousands of slaves escape to Canada. His experiences on the Underground Railroad served as inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

- Rebecca Goodman

E-mail rgoodman@enquirer.com or 768-8361.




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