Underground Railroad Society
of Cass County, Michigan
History of Slavery and the Underground Railroad
--presentation by Babara Cook, Cass County historian
for Underground Railroad Days, 2015
The term “Underground Railroad” meant freedom for thousands of slaves in the South and was used to describe the cooperative effort that enabled enslaved people to escape to freedom. It began in the South with blacks helping blacks and spread to the North where Free Blacks and others provided food, shelter and assistance to Freedom Seekers. The concept grew into a well-organized and sophisticated system, Underground Railroad was the "term" used for the route, roads and homes and other shelters used to help the Freedom Seekers escape from their southern masters. One might say it was railroad with no "tracks or caboose." Many Freedom Seekers came into Michigan from Kentucky on their way to Canada.
Railroad terms like "depot" and "conductor" were code words. The places of refuge became known as “stations”, their owners known as “operators, or station masters” and the transporters of the fugitives were “conductors.” Initially conductors only knew the name of the conductor in front of them, but over time, many learned about the ones to the South. Escaping was dangerous. If the Freedom Seekers were caught, they were whipped or beaten and some made to wear chains. Many, who made it to the North and got established, worked to help others escape via the Underground Railroad. Freedom Seekers traveled at night with depots being 10- 16 miles apart. The main route northeast from Vandalia went through Schoolcraft, Battle Creek, Jackson, Ann Arbor, Detroit and finally to Windsor, Canada.
The Underground Railroad obviously did not run underground, but “under cover,” and hiding places were tunnels, caves, root cellars, homes, barns, and springhouses. Escaping slaves or fugitives, traveled by foot, horse, train, wagons, and carriages. Two main networks of the UGRR were the Illinois Line, which originated in St. Louis and the Quaker Line, which ran through Indiana. Both of these came into Cass County and converged near Vandalia.
Conductors transported, fed, clothed and concealed Freedom Seekers until it was safe to move them to the next station. Travel usually was by horse and wagon with the fugitives hidden under blankets, straw, hay, sacks of grain, and sometimes in false-bottomed rigs. Boats, trains and horses also were used. On occasion the runaways were just handed some food and had the escape route pointed out to them. The Underground Railroad operated from Kansas in the southwest to Maine in the northeast and there are many stories about the brave people who escaped to the north or helped others to do so.
The Underground railway operated in violation of the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. Those caught were subject to arrest, fines of $500, and/or imprisonment. Furthermore, Station masters and conductors put their reputations, families, homes, farms, and businesses in jeopardy. Underground participants were from every walk of life…farmers, doctors, clergymen, merchants, professors, and women of education and refinement…all showed courage and remarkable indifference to the opinions of the masses at the moment. The Quakers were by far the most significant group to help the African-Americans escape.
Some of the Blacks that settled in Cass County were "Free Blacks" and others were runaway slaves. Free Blacks and Quakers both assisted those escaping slavery in the South.
"Can you provide entertainment for myself and another person?" This was the password sentence that ran the Underground Railroad in Cass County.
Slavery was accepted in the Old World and records date to the time of Abraham (2000 B.C.) In Islamic Berbers brought the first black slaves to Spain in 1441. In 1510 African slaves were transported by Spanish ships to Spanish colonies in the New World. In 1585 an English ship, "Jesus" commanded vy privateer Sir John Hawkins transported African slaves to the West Indies,” commanded by the privateer, Sir John Hawkins, under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Envision early Atlantic trade as a triangle with one leg between the New World including North and South America and the Caribbean to Europe; another leg from Europe to Africa; and the third leg from Africa back to the New World. Countries heavily engaging in the slave trade included Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, Britain, British North America and Denmark.
Slaves from Africa were delivered to Curacao, Brazil, Cuba, the West Indies, British North America, and Europe. Many of the crops raised in the New World, for which there was a demand in the Old World, required a lot of labor to produce. These were sugar, indigo, tobacco, rice, cotton, lumber, rum, molasses- all of which were produced in Brazil, the Caribbean and the Southern America Colonies and shipped to Europe. Products shipped to Europe from the Northern America Colonies included furs, meat/fish, grain, whale oil, lumber, potash, and iron. European ships transported weapons, ammunition, manufactured goods, fabrics, and liquor to Africa. These same ships picked up slaves (that had been brought to the west coast of Africa) and transported them to the Americas and the Caribbean.
An estimated 13 million black slaves came to the Americas from African coastal areas including Sierra Leon, Windward Coast, Ivory Coast, Gold Coast Ghana, Benin, The Cameroons, Congo/Angola, Mozambique, and Madagascar. The enslaved labored in sugar and coffee plantations, mines, homes, cotton and cocoa fields, and in heavy construction. The African Slave Trade lasted until about 1820 in North America. This large labor force would not have been available outside Africa without the cooperation of local African kings, black merchants, and noblemen. Between 1440 and 1860, the slaves were just another commodity and a good way to get rid of criminals and less desirable members of their communities. A court sentence of "On ship transport" usually resulted in a lifetime of slavery. Between 1492 and 1820, five times more Africans went to the New World than White Europeans. Last winter - Cape Verde experience
In 1775, more than one half million African slaves were in the American colonies and many thousand fought in our Revolutionary War. They fought faithfully and believed that their military service would bring them freedom; but after the war, many were reclaimed as slaves. Some masters even collected their slaves’ war pensions.
For 300 years, Michigan was a vast Indian hunting ground and later the French developed the fur-trade before the territory came under British control in 1760. In 1767, the Northwest Ordinance was signed and it declared “involuntary servitude, except in punishment of crime, illegal.” The Northwest Ordinance was the first attempt by any country to prohibit slavery in an area. (Thomas Jefferson had worked for this since 1776 when the anti-slavery clause he had had written in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence had been stricken to appease the slave-trading colonies of Georgia and South Carolina.) The Northwest Territory included the states of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and a small part of Minnesota.
When it became evident that the newly-formed United States Government didn’t intend to abolish slavery, indignant, determined anti-slavery individuals, mostly "Quakers, began to systemize their activities. By 1787, a definite trend had begun to abolish slavery. Many opposing slavery in the industrialized North were content to let slavery stand in the South. Others wanted to abolish it everywhere, and others simply wanted to return the African-Americans to Africa or the Caribbean [-called repatriation.] Some people believed that abolishing slavery was the only way to preserve the Union. In reality, the Civil War wasn’t about States’ Rights. It was all about slavery. But many in the North did not appreciate the amount labor required to produce the Southern crops and or products for export. One might say that the South was more agricultural, and the North more industrial. Newspapers revealed the divisive feeling toward African-Americans. Ideas were often championed or condemned based on how the slavery issue affected one economically.
Members of the Society of Friends—The Quakers—first settled around Philadelphia in 1685. The Quakers, especially those who had moved into Virginia and the Carolinas, were the first to openly oppose slavery in the South. Quakers had owned slaves, but freed them when their religion emphasized personal and religious freedom and equality. Further, the Quakers believed if slavery was wrong for them, it was wrong for the United States. The Quakers sympathized deeply with the oppressed as they equated slavery with their own ancestors’ persecution for their religious beliefs.
Quaker Charles Osborn was called the “Father of the Abolitionist movement”. He was born in North Carolina and became a Quaker minister. As an outspoken individual, he preached a full-anti-slavery Gospel and established manumission societies in North Carolina and Tennessee. He also published The Philanthropist in Ohio, the first anti-slavery newspaper in America. Traveling thousands of miles in this country and abroad preaching against slavery, he also opposed the use of products of slave labor such as cotton, rice and cane sugar, linen and wool clothing, maple syrup, and hominy. He considered them “stolen goods” because their masters stole the slaves’ labor. Osborn was ousted by the more conservative Quaker members of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, in 1842. He then recruited about 2,000 like-minded individuals and they formed the Indiana Anti-Slavery branch of Quakers. Osborn later moved to Cass County, Michigan with his extended family. As farmers, he and his family became active in the Underground Railroad and his sons established Underground Railroad stations. His daughters married like-minded Underground Railroad men.
Midwestern Quakers lived amidst unrelenting racial prejudice. Slavery had been prohibited by the Northwest Ordinance but anti-slavery forces had to beat back strong efforts to legalize various forms of bondage in Illinois and Indiana. For example, it was illegal to employ an African-American in Indiana. Ohio also had discriminatory black laws. In Michigan, incoming Blacks had to possess manumission or freedom papers and post a $500 bond. Nearly all of the Midwestern states imposed various forms of racial discrimination. For African-Americans, freedom north of the Ohio River definitely was better than slavery, but it was a limited freedom. Freed blacks had to leave N.C.
To get fertile land and raise less labor-intensive crops many North Carolina Quakers moved to Indiana and Ohio before settling in Michigan. In the 1820s, the migration of Quakers to Michigan quickened. Some 100 Quaker families settled in Cass County during the 1830s and 1840s. Many purchased large plats of farmland in three townships Penn, Porter, and Calvin. Quaker families usually were large and most fathers wanted to settle where their sons could acquire substantial farms. A Quaker church was established in Calvin Township and it served the social, cultural and educational center of the Quaker Community.
Many of the freed North Carolina slaves continued their employment with the same families to which they had been enslaved. The African-Americans also voluntarily migrated into Ohio, Indiana and Cass County, Michigan, along with their Quaker counterparts.
In the face of considerable hardship and hazards, Cass County’s multiracial community was an anti-slavery refuge. For more than 20 years before the Civil War, the Quaker alliance with blacks provided shelter, clothing, education, work and economic aid. The Quakers also endeavored to improve the legal and political status of the African-Americans in the county. The Quakers - notably the Easts, Bogues, and Osborns encouraged freedom seekers and free blacks to live and work on their farms; staying in cabins built for that purpose. Some stayed in the area, but most went on to Canada. A settlement on the James E. Bonine property that came to be called “Ramptown” (after a wild leek that grew in the area) was unique. In 1853 Bonine purchased Section 33 (640 acres) about ¼ mile south of M-60 west of Calvin Center Rd. at Bonine St. He invited freedom seekers and free blacks to come to Vandalia and make a life. He offered them the opportunity to use 5-10 acres of land in exchange for clearing the land. These individuals and families and families who worked for James E. Bonine built their own cabins, cultivated gardens, raised livestock, earned their own money, sent their children to school and attended church. Ramptown grew into a community of about 100 cabins. African Americans accumulated money by selling produce, livestock, charcoal and potash. Later, when the arrangement ended, many Ramptown residents were able to purchase land of their own, and went on to become prosperous farmers and important members of the community.
Ramptown lasted into the 1920’s, but all traces of the cabins have disappeared. The Bonine House on Penn Road and the Carriage House on Calvin Center Road are being restored and are well worth a visit. They are open during the warmer months and by appointment. The nearby Bogue House has a stone marker commemorating this house as a station on the Underground Railway. It is estimated that 1,500 Freedom Seekers passed through the Cassopolis/Vandalia area.
The Underground Railroad in Cass County operated through cooperation, respect, and mutual trust among Quakers, Free Blacks, and other abolitionists. The interdependency of these groups created a unique environment that "helped minimize racism, promote cooperation between the races, and create an African-American community unique to the North."
Schools and churches were established. Two African-American residential settlements—Brownsville and Day that developed in Calvin Township. An historian recorded that not only were blacks allowed to purchase property, they had legal rights—the right to an attorney, the right to testify against white offenders, the right to bail, to make use of the writ of habeas corpus, the right to sue or be sued and the right to a trial by jury. (Rights we take for granted today) But most ex-slaves in Michigan didn’t enjoy those rights. In 1855, Calvin Township blacks were voting in school elections and statewide, lighter-skinned African-Americans were allowed to vote in the 1848 Presidential election.
Many Cass County free blacks borrowed money from George Redfield, a land speculator from New York State, who had taught school in Georgia and had witnessed Southern slavery firsthand. He purchased about 10,000 acres of land in Cass County—3,000, which were in Calvin Township and sold land to Blacks on generous credit terms.
Not every slave or free Black longed to escape to the North. Some felt comfortable with their traditional way of life. They knew what to expect and what was expected of them. Some had fair masters. Being able to see the lights of free soil across the Ohio River didn’t lure every slave to cross and to begin a perilous journey away from his family, his home, his friends, and his traditions.
Historians and researchers have largely overlooked the heroic efforts put forth by the enslaved people escaping bondage in the South. Freedom Seekers received some aid from whites, mainly Quakers, but more often they relied on their own resources and small communities of free blacks living in the North. To a large extent, the fugitives’ stories are not found in print, and the rich history of these early Black pioneers lies buried with them. Most couldn’t read or write so they left no memoirs. Their descendants related the rich oral history passed on to them, but much of that was not recorded. Many of the fugitives didn’t remain in Cass County. All too often when faced with legal difficulties, the safest route for them was to escape to Canada. Courage, hard work, determination, native intelligence and a bit of luck were needed to survive and prosper in the North and with some assistance from Free Blacks and Quakers. Those mostly unnamed Free Blacks, who helped their fellow human beings escape slavery and gave them comfort, solace, food and housing were the likes of Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and James Merediths of 150 years ago. Unfortunately, most are nameless and their bravery unrecorded.
Michigan was the apex or top of the triangle for slaves escaping through western Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas. Initially, most of the runaways were single, young men and many were mulattoes. Later, couples and families sought freedom in the North. Harsh or inhumane treatment, threats of being sold to work on sugar or cotton plantations, families being broken up, the death of a master, or sales of family members were the main reasons for Freedom Seekers to begin their perilous trip North to a free state or Canada.
There were three classes of slaves—household servants, field hands, and itinerant slaves who had a trade and whose masters farmed out their services to others. The latter were the best equipped to successfully escape and they had more knowledge of the topography of the land and had a skill by which to earn a living. These included carpenters, shoemakers and blacksmiths. Despite the staggering figures of fugitive slaves that can be found in the various publications, most of the runaways that used the Underground Railroad left plantations within a hundred miles of the border with a Free State and most were within a county or two of the border. The freedom-seeking slave had to watch for the long arm of the slave catchers as they chose their routes of escape and methods of travel.
Slave revolts, slave patrols, and runaway slaves lead to slave catchers and raids. Runaways were watched for on bridges, trails, ferries, boats, popular land routes and were tracked, hunted with dogs, and often physically beaten when caught. Wanted posters also were used and bribes were paid to disclose the whereabouts of runaway slaves. Slave catchers were paid for their efforts.
Several Quaker-run stations were in Cass County and Stephen Bogue and Zachariah Shugart were the most prominent stationmasters. Shugart also was a conductor as well as kept a journal between 1841 and 1846, recording the names of 137 people that he helped.
In Niles, Michigan, Freedom Seekers were assisted by being given Michigan Central Railroad tickets to Detroit. Some were sent around the Great Lakes with friendly ship captains who let their passengers off at any point they could find safety and work. Fleeing slaves entered Canada from Michigan.
Wright Modlin's family was from North Carolina and at one time his family and their neighbors had owned slaves but had released their slaves and moved North. Modlin was a teamster by occupation and owned good horses and an old-fashioned Pennsylvania wagon. He often would neglect his own business to help fleeing slaves.
Once as he was helping a runaway family that was being hotly pursued by slave catchers on horses and he told them to seek refuge in a nearby woods as the slave catchers drew near. The husband told his family to run and after he made sure they were safe, he attracted the attention of the slave catchers. He was shot in the leg and then pretended to be seriously wounded. The slave catchers took him to a doctor for treatment, and then left him at a hotel while they went to lunch. The hotel owner’s 12-year-old son was to guard the wounded man but the youngster told the Freedom Seeker that the woods 'were only 40 rods away if he could run.' The man ran and eventually overtook his wife and children in MI and the family found safety in Canada. When the young boy at the hotel was questioned, he responded, “How could a little boy like me stop a great big man like him?”
William Jones of Calvin Township, known as "Nigger Bill," and Wright Modlin of Williamsville, were famous "Nigger runners", and made frequent trips to the Ohio and sometimes into Kentucky to assist and guide fugitives to freedom.
Across the Detroit River lay Canada and safety, but the danger of capture threatened the fugitives to the very water’s edge. A wealthy southern planter had freed two slaves - a Negro woman and her daughter. The daughter was a transcendent beauty, without a trace of Negro blood. We shall call her the “Beautiful Girl,” for so those who saw her remember her. When the planter died, his son refused to recognize the ‘Beautiful Girl’s manumission or freedom. He chose to hold his half-sister as a slave. You just heard about Wright Modlin and realize that his sympathies were with the slaves. Secretly he cooperated with the Underground Railroad as a spy, scout, guide, and conductor and this was extremely hazardous for him. Had his neighbors discovered his activities, they would have shot him like a dog. But he defied danger. ‘No bullet.’ he said, ‘Will ever pierce Wright Modlin’s skin.’
He was the man who rescued the “Beautiful Girl” from a fate worse than death and brought her North, via the Underground Route, to Battle Creek. Here she remained at the home of Erastus Hussey for a few hours. Pursuers were hot upon the trail. Although the poor girl was pitifully frightened by the danger of recapture and worn by the strain of enforced and continuous travel - her stay could not be long. After a few hours of rest she was disguised as an old woman and bundled into a top-buggy. With Wright Modlin dressed as a farmer and acting as her driver, their trip to Canada continued. Again and again, after seeing clouds of dust approaching along the road, the two escaped to the privacy of some friendly wayside farmhouse. At last they reached the outskirts of Detroit, four mounted horsemen were seen following at a gallop. The “Beautiful Girl” was instantly terrorized. Modlin said to her: ‘I have a knife in my belt. If you make any outcry, I shall kill you. I shall not permit you to fall into their hands alive.’ This violent threat had the desired effect. The girl became calm. The horsemen rode up - two on each side of the carriage - and peered in. This was the crucial test of the girl’s nerves. She uttered no sound. The sunbonnet shaded her face. The riders saw only an indifferent-appearing female and an old farmer. The latter pointed across the fields with his whip and cried out in a high key: ‘Me and the old woman is out land looking. Do you know of any good farms for sale around here?’ The horsemen rode on without answering. Later as the carriage lumbered along Woodward Avenue in Detroit a man on the sidewalk raised his hat and wiped his forehead with a white handkerchief. This motion did not escape the watchful eye of Wright Modlin. He understood the secret signal. It meant, ‘I am a friend. Follow me.’ No word was spoken; no look of recognition was exchanged. The horse and carriage moved steadily along down the street toward the waterfront. Here their silent guide entered a boathouse. A moment later Wright Modlin and the “Beautiful Girl” followed him. A rowboat and two oarsmen were waiting. The girl got into the boat; and the skiff shot toward Canada. Hardly had the boat reached midstream of the Detroit River before the horsemen galloped up to the boathouse door - three minutes too late. The Underground Railroad had safely delivered the “Beautiful Girl” to freedom.
The Rogers’ History of Cass County, 1825-1875 stated that between 50 to 100 former slaves lived in the area by 1846. Sources also claim that by 1847, seven black men owned a total of 680 acres in the county. Freedom Seekers were employed and living on Quaker farms. It was only a matter of time until slave hunters came to Cass County in search of their runaway “property.”
During the winter of 1846-47, Bourbon County, Kentucky, planters formed an association to pursue and return servants and slaves to their owners. On one occasion a young man from Kentucky entered the law office of Charles E. Stewart of Kalamazoo, Michigan, under the guise of being a law student. However, C.B. Carpenter was really a spy and wanted to become geographically familiar with the neighboring counties to locate runaway slaves. His Southern accent betrayed him and his employment ended. Carpenter then visited the Black settlements of Calhoun and Cass Counties representing himself as an eastern abolitionist newspaper writer. By doing so, he readily obtained admission to the homes and farms of the Blacks, Quakers and other friends of the fugitives in Cass County. Carpenter gathered firsthand information about runaways and locations in Kentucky from where they escaped.
Using the information supplied by Carpenter, a large posse of 30 Kentucky slave hunters headed northward and entered Michigan in August of 1847. They first went to Battle Creek where their arrival aroused suspicion. Erastus Hussey, the local stationmaster, met the men at the town’s hotel. The men purported to be salesmen for an ‘improved washing machine.’ However, Hussey accused them of being slave hunters and told them to leave town at once and that he and the people of Battle Creek would not allow a fugitive slave to be returned to bondage. Furthermore, Hussey said that he wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences if they remained in town and their true purposes for being there were made generally known. The Kentuckians thus left Battle Creek and traveled west toward Cass County. Hussey wrote Zachariah Shugart and Stephen Bogue in Cass County to warn them of the Kentuckians. However, because of the irregularity of the mail service, the letters arrived after the Kentucky Raid took place.
On August 16, 1847, this heavily armed group of Kentucky slave hunters entered Cass County to claim their former slaves. The raiders split into small parties and raided four Quaker settlements. Before daybreak, the slave hunters had captured nine alleged fugitive slaves and a baby. Other Blacks escaped and sounded the alarm. One settlement was chosen because while Carpenter had been in the area gathering information, a family of five fugitives had arrived and decided to settle there. They consisted of an elderly man, his wife, two sons and a daughter. The raiders captured the men but the women escaped by jumping out of a window and hiding in the nearby woods.
At the Shugarts, when the raiders tried to capture an African-American couple, the woman escaped but left her Northern-born child on the bed. A Baptist minister and one of the raiders, picked up the child and it cried. The distraught mother fell for the ploy and was captured. The minister was persuaded to allow the captive black mother to ride his horse while he walked and carried the child. The minister was harassed by residents and the crowd as a ‘child-stealer’ on the way to the courthouse in Cassopolis.
The raiders rendezvoused south of the Village of Vandalia. Angry African-American and Quaker residents armed with clubs and farm tools surrounded the raiders and their hostages. To avert injury and violence, the Quakers persuaded the raiders to prove their ownership of the captives at the county’s courthouse. The crowd increased in size until 200 to 300 people gathered and walked the 6 miles to the Cassopolis courthouse.
The locals charged the Kentuckians with kidnapping. A few also were arrested for assault and battery. One slave, William Merriman, known to the southerners as “Lewis,” had been badly beaten during his capture. He was able to file formal charges of assault and battery against his assailants. Similarly, the conductor in the Underground Railroad who had provided refuge for the Merriman family, lodged a complaint against one of the raiders who had broken into and damaged his house.
Since African-Americans in Cass County had the right to testify against white offenders, the alleged fugitives were summoned to appear as witnesses in the kidnapping charges filed against the slave catchers. The captives were protected further by their recourse to a writ of habeas corpus. This procedure enabled local authorities to remove the captives from the Kentuckians’ custody and to transfer them to the county jail. In this instance, the county jail acted as a safe house, and anti-slavery people stood guard throughout the night. The right to a habeas corpus hearing also required that the Kentuckians produce their prisoners in court and to prove ownership.
Faced with these legal protections for Cass County’s black population, the 14 Kentuckians complied with the laws and posted bail. They appeared in court the next day before a substitute judge, bearing bills of sale, power of attorney documents and a copy of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law. Unbeknownst to the Kentuckians, the substitute judge presiding over the trial was a covert abolitionist and an Underground Railroad agent. He refused to accept the Kentuckians evidence since they could not produce a certified copy of Kentucky's State Constitution and ordered the captives released.
The Freedom Seekers were taken to a home on the south edge of Cassopolis. That night, led by longtime conductors Henry Shepard, and Quaker Zachariah Shugart, the nine former slaves escaped with their families. In all, 45 fugitives and nine abolitionists acting as guards traveled northeast to Battle Creek and on to Canada. This successful mass escape and the events that led up to it became known in Michigan as the “Kentucky Raid.”
The Kentucky slave owners referred to their losses as the “Cassopolis Outrage.” With the Freedom Seekers gone, all charges were dropped against the slave catchers and the Southerners were released. The 60 foot outdoor mural in downtown Cassopolis depicts the historic clash leading up to the Civil War and freedom for all slaves.
The ensuing legal maneuvers from both sides intersected with state, regional and presidential political strategies. In the midst of this extraordinary political intrigue, fugitives, slaves and their allies sought justice. It was like a chess game with the slaves and their Quaker Friends as pawns against the political ambitions of several men from both political parties. At least three men's aspirations to become President were dashed by the KY raids -- Henry Clay from KY and Lewis Cass from MI were two of them. Backlash against this historic case the first in which a black man testified against a white man in a court of law, led to the passage of a much more stringent Fugitive Slave Act and ultimately, the start of the Civil War. On September 18, 1850 the new Fugitive Slave Act went into effect and impacted the lives of the fugitives and the would-be protectors of runaway slaves and strengthened the rights of the Southerners. The Kentucky Raid and the trials generated national headlines in the mid-nineteenth century, yet most of the information about these events can be found only in county histories and local newspapers. Historians largely overlooked the Kentucky Raid and the resulting trials.
Within a month of the signing of the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850, the steady northward trek to Canada of the free blacks and Freedom Seekers began and continued throughout the next decade. It is estimated that 15,000 - 20,000 Freedom Seekers fled to Canada between 1850 and 1860 increasing the Black population to about 60,000 in 1860. The Canadians received the refugees with kindness and assisted them in any way they could. At the end of the Civil War, many Freedom Seekers in exile returned to the United States.
Col. Orlando Moore was an intelligent, soft-spoken man from Coldwater, MI who was not content to quietly and obediently follow military protocol. Throughout his life he was an individual of principle, honor, and duty whose achievements were not sensationalized. He was commander of the 25th Michigan Regiment of Infantry that was raised in the summer of 1862 and was composed of men from Southwestern Michigan.
In September his Regiment was sent to Louisville, and after a few months Moore was made Provost Marshal of Louisville. That was a challenging position for him because although KY was considered a Northern State, a large contingent of the population favored the Southern Cause. At the time of Moore's appointment as Provost Marshall the District of Kentucky was under Unionist General Jeremiah Boyle. The civil and military authorities of Louisville condoned the seizure, imprisonment and resale of freed African Americans coming through Kentucky from the South on their way to Indiana and other northern states. Moore was determined to stop this practice and Boyle and his influential cronies and rebel sympathizers decided to "get Moore." Moore was court martialed for insubordination after he called Boyle and other officers in Louisville "damn fools who did not know their business of officering." President Abraham Lincoln personally ordered an investigation of Moore's case by the Judge Advocate General, and the President himself signed the document that reversed the discharge of Moore and restored his commissions as Colonel of the 25th Regiment of Michigan Volunteers and permanent Captain of the 6th Infantry of the Regular Army on July 19, 1864. This note was put in his service record in the National Archives in Washington, D. C. for 136 years. However, after Grif and I finished our research in 1999 and returned the folder we called to the attention of one of the Archives staff that piece of paper appeared to us to be a historically important document for the "new" Civil Rights Museum that was being constructed. We had made a Xerox copy of the document, which we shared with another KY researcher. When she accessed the file few months later the document we had copied was missing.
That is not the only document that is missing. Grif and I while trying to do more research on the Kentucky Raid court cases and some of the lawsuits involving Cass County individuals found that the pertinent papers pertaining to those cases were re-located from Washington, D.C. to Chicago but those pertinent papers on those lawsuits were gone too.
If you are acquainted with the 25th Michigan of Civil War Days you will remember Moore and his Union victory at the Battle of Tebbs Bend over a much larger Confederate army led by the famed General John Hunt Morgan on July 4, 1863, On this same date in the east the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee was defeated at Gettysburg and retreated south to Virginia. In the West the Confederacy was successfully cut in half we John Pemberton finally surrendered his besieged command in Vicksburg, Mississippi to the Federal Forces under General Grant.
Moore's amazing triumph was almost totally eclipsed by the sheer size and scope of the Gettysburg and Vicksburg victories. The Battle of Tebbs Bend was fought a few miles south of Campbellsville, KY on the Green River, where they were to rebuild a railroad bridge that connected Louisville with South Central Kentucky. It was a singular victory for five companies of the 25th Regiment consisting of 263 men and led by Col. Moore to stop General Morgan and his cavalry force of about 2,500 men as they executed a raid on Louisville, KY to pillage the city and capture a large number of military warehouses.
After the Civil War, three amendments to the U. S. Constitution were passed:
13th (1864) A made slavery illegal in the U.S. and recognized African men as citizens of the country.
14th (1868) A. gave all U.S. citizens, including African Americans, the same legal rights and protection under the law - the right to a trial by jury, to sure and be sued, and to testify against their accusers.
15th (1870) A. gave all male U.S. Citizens the right to vote.
How many Freedom Seekers found a way to begin a new life via the Underground Railroad cannot be determined exactly. Most of those seeking freedom from Maine through the upper Midwest stayed for a while in places along the route before relocating to western Ontario, whose African communities today are made up of the descendants of those Freedom Seekers.