The Conductor: The Story of Rev. John Rankin, Abolitionism’s Essential Founding Father


Known in his day as the “Father of Abolitionism,” Reverend John Rankin is one of the greatest heroes previously lost to history.

Sitting high above the small community of Ripley, Ohio, a lantern shone in the front window of a small, red brick home at night. It was a signal to slaves in Kentucky—a beacon of liberty in the darkness—just across the Ohio River. Anyone fleeing bondage could look to Reverend John Rankin’s home for hope. To the slaveholders they fled from, Rankin’s activities as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad invoked rage. Mobs often pelted Rankin with eggs and rocks, bounties were placed on his head, and midnight assassins lurked in the darkness, waiting for the right opportunity to take out the “Father of Abolitionism.” Despite frequent threats, he remained committed to the freedom of his fellow man.

Rankin’s impact extended well beyond Ripley. In The Conductor, author Caleb Franz tells the story of the man who served as a George Washington–type figure to the antislavery movement. Rankin’s leadership brought unity and clarity to the often factious abolitionists of the nineteenth century. William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and countless others found inspiration in his teachings.

Rich with drama and adventure, The Conductor elevates Reverend John Rankin to his proper place in the pantheon of American heroes.