Levi Sutliff

From Ohio History Central

Levi Sutliff was a conductor on the Underground Railroad in Trumbull County, Ohio.

Sutliff was born on July 12, 1805, in Vernon, Ohio. He resided his entire life in Trumbull County. His family had moved to the Connecticut Western Reserve shortly before Sutliff's birth, and Levi Sutliff spent much of his youth helping his father, Deacon Samuel Sutliff, clearing land for a farm. Levi Sutliff received a limited education as a youth, but he eventually learned the law and passed the Ohio bar exam in 1840. He practiced law on a professional basis for only a few years, before retiring from active practice, returning to life as a farmer. Sutliff married twice. His first wife, Mary Plumb, died in 1836, just eighteen months after she married Sutliff. Sutliff's second wife was Phebe L. Marvin (also reported as Marvis), who outlived her husband.

Sutliff was a devout abolitionist and also participated in the Underground Railroad. He helped establish an anti-slavery society in Trumbull County in 1832. Sutliff also financed a speaking tour by his brother, Milton Sutliff, across northeastern Ohio in 1833. On the tour, Milton Sutliff sought to convince his fellow Ohioans of slavery's injustices. Levi Sutliff also actively assisted fugitive slaves in attaining their freedom in Canada. He purportedly opened his home to runaways. On one occasion, in the 1840s, Sutliff traveled to Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), where he assisted a slave in gaining his freedom. Sutliff took the man, who was shackled to an eleven-pound ball to a blacksmith. The blacksmith removed the shackle, and then Sutliff and another abolitionist, James Brown, transported the now fugitive to an Underground Railroad stop in Salem, Ohio.

Sutliff died on March 25, 1864. 

Sutliff represents the growing tensions over slavery between Northerners and Southerners during the early nineteenth century. While many Northern states had provisions outlawing slavery, runaway slaves did not necessarily gain their freedom upon arriving in a free state. Federal law permitted slaveowners to reclaim their runaway slaves. Some slaves managed to escape their owners on their own, while others sometimes received assistance from sympathetic Northerners, such as Sutliff.

See Also


  1. "Obituary of Levi Sutliff." The Liberator. 21 October 1864.
  2. History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties. Cleveland, OH: H. Z. Williams & Bro., 1882.
  3. Johnson's Lake Shore Home Magazine. Vol. VIII, 2. February 1888