The Quakers and the Underground Railroad
by Barbara Wood Cook
In the writing of American history, Quakers have occupied a place out of proportion to their numbers. Probably the most important reason for this is the group’s position and pioneering work against slavery.
The Anti-slavery movement in America is unique and interesting in the fact that a number of people, mainly Quakers, adhering strongly to certain beliefs and principles and willing to sacrifice everything - health, wealth, and position - were able to influence the government and economy of our nation and succeeded in abolishing slavery in America after a Civil War.
The Quakers or Friends played a significant role in the anti-slavery movement. [The latter was their real name, but one of their speakers having said that they “quaked at the power of God” their enemies called them Quakers in derision.] The Friends were pious and sympathized deeply with the oppressed like the Indians and colored people. They were not only highly religious but maintained strongly the ideals of personal and religious freedom and equality. The Quakers were among the first to appreciate the evils of human slavery and did not hesitate to do all in their power to eradicate it. Further, they thought if slavery was wrong for them, it was wrong for the United States. The Quakers believe that all men are equal in the eyes of God.
In fact one Quaker, Charles Osborn, was called the Father of the Abolitionist movement by William Lloyd Garrison at a meeting in Cleveland in 1847. Charles was born August 21, 1775, in Guilford County, North Carolina to Daniel and Margaret (Stout) Osborn and his grandfather Matthew Osborn emigrated from England to Delaware. About 1794 he migrated to Knox County, Tennessee, where he became a Quaker preacher and for thirty years and was held in esteem wherever he spoke or traveled. Endowed by his Quaker environment with a reforming spirit and influenced by the privations of a semi-pioneer life, he maintained with courage and ability his moral, religious, and anti-slavery convictions.
In 1847 a large group of Kentucky slavecatchers arrived in the area and fanned out to capture the "property" of southern planters from the Bogue, East, Shugart and Osborn farms--all prominent Quaker abolitionists. An alarm was sounded and Quakers, free blacks and other townspeople from Cassopolis and Vandalia gathered to stop the abduction of their neighbors. They surrounded the Kentuckians and refused to let them take the fugitives to Kentucky. It almost came to violence, but the Quakers prevented it by much entreaty and persuasion, convincing the Kentuckians to take the case to court.In the absence of the local Cass County judge, the Quakers brought in a judge from Berrien County who was a secret abolitionist. He found for the fugitives on a technicality and turned the slavecatchers away in a rage. They came back a year later to sue Quakers Stephen Bogue, Zachariah Shugart, Josiah, and Jefferson Osborn and Ishmael Lee; as well as William H. Jones, David T. Nicholson and Judge Ebeneezer McIlvain in Detroit circuit court. The case was eventually dismissed, but heavy trial costs forced Zachariah Shugart, Ishmael Lee and William H. Jones to sell their farms and move away.
In 1843 there was a split in the original Quaker Meeting founded at Birch Lake in 1836 over the question of the Underground Railroad. While all Quakers were opposed to slavery, some did not want to break the law by helping freedom seekers on their way to Canada. Several Quakers broke from Birch Lake Meeting and formed the Young's Prairie Anti-Slavery Society and soon became engaged in the UGRR as conductors and stationmasters. Among them were Stephen and Hannah Bogue, Ishmael and Miriam Lee, Josiah, Hannah, Mary and Charles Osborn. Susannah and Zachariah Shugart. William Jones, James E. Bonine, and the Joel East family are also credited as stationmasters on the UGRR. UGRR activity around Vandalia was so well known that it was called by Henry Clay on the floor of the US Congress "that hotbed of abolitionism."
--Excerpted from an article by Brenda Beadenkopf, URSCC Research/History Committee chair, published in the Concord Quarterly Newsletter
Fugitives on the Underground Railroad came up two lines that joined in Cass County--one from Illinois, and the other called "The Quaker Line" from Indiana. Many freedom seekers were sent from Levi Coffin in Fountain City, IN (called Newport then), south of Fort Wayne. Coffin was as known as the "President" of the Underground Railroad. He visited and was impressed by the community in Cass County.
Freedom seekers on this line were given safe haven by Quakers Dr. Nathan and Pamela Thomas in Schoolcraft, and from there to the home of Quakers Erastus and Sarah Hussey in Battle Creek. Then on to Detroit, where they crossed into Canada at Windsor, Ontario. However many stayed in Penn, Calvin and Porter townships because they felt safe and welcomed in the unique community founded by Quakers aka "Friends", free blacks and other abolitionists. Many local Quakers, notably Stephen Bogue, Josiah Osborn, Joel East, Zachariah Shugart, Ishmael Lee, and James E. Bonine, allowed freedom seekers and free black families to live on their farms in exchange for clearing the land. They built cabins, planted gardens, could work and earn money, attend church, and their children could attend school. One such settlement of cabins on property owned by James E. Bonine came to be called "Ramptown" after a wild leek that grew in the area. African Americans could hold office, take part in community activities and testify in court, unheard of in the rest of the country. Friends' values were extended to the freedom seekers as part of Quaker belief that "brotherly love" is more than just a Christian ideal. It is claimed that over 1,500 freedom seekers came through the Vandalia Underground Railroad on their way to Canada.
Quakers and the Underground Railroad
in Cass County
This is an extensive (75 page) detailed article about the Quakers of Cass County and the Underground Railroad. Below is a brief introduction and a list of the topics covered.
Early Quaker Settlements in Cass County
Early Quaker Settlers
The Development of Quaker Houses of Worship and School
Early Quaker Services in Penn Township
Birch Lake Friends Meetings and Church (1836 - 1915)
(including a list of those members for whom notations in the records were made)
Young’s Prairie Meeting (1845 - 1848)
Prairie Grove Church (1846 - 1880)
Other Quaker meetings
Vandalia (1879 - 1903)
Penn Friends Church 1883 - present
Vandalia Quarterly Meeting (1887 - 1917)
Biographical Sketches of Quaker Families
The East Family
George Washington Jones
Marriage records of Logan County Ohio
The Bogue Family
Stephen A. Bogue
James B(ogue) Bonine
William Grubb and Elizabeth McIllvain
Residents of Cass County with Quaker Heritage
I. P. Hutton