Michigan Legal Milestones
30. Freedom Road
Freedom Road—The ceremony in Dowagiac on August 16, 2005, focused on how the white and free black residents of Cass County rallied to protect runaway slaves in the Kentucky Raid of 1847 and the implications for society and race relations today. A bronze marker was installed on the south side of the 1899 courthouse in Cassopolis.
Michigan Bar Journal
A Stop on the Long Road to Freedom
Complete Text on Milestone Marker
Beginning in 1829, Penn, Calvin, and Porter townships in Cass County were settled by Quakers who migrated there. Free Blacks also settled there, and both groups lived in harmony. Blacks in Cass County enjoyed many rights, such as the right to own land, the right to trial by jury, and the right to vote in elections—rights not available to all Blacks in the nation until the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The free Blacks and Quakers in this area were the backbone of the Underground Railroad, a network that provided food, shelter, employment, and assistance to those fleeing bondage while on the road to freedom in Canada, where slavery was illegal.
In August 1847, in one of the largest of many raids in Michigan, about 20 to 30 heavily armed men from Kentucky sought to recapture those who had escaped Kentucky slavery and remained in Cass County. The Kentuckians captured nine fugitives from four Quaker farms. Free Blacks and Quakers surrounded the raiders and persuaded them to go to Cassopolis for a legal decision. On the fugitives' assertion, 14 raiders were arrested for assault and battery, kidnapping, and trespass. A Berrien court commissioner heard the case and released the fugitives because the raiders could not produce a certified copy of the Kentucky statutes showing slavery was legal, although they did have bills of sale. While the Kentuckians were on trial, 45 fugitives, including the 9 captured in the raid, escaped to Canada. The Berrien commissioner was later found not to have jurisdiction.
Seven Quakers were sued in U.S. District Court in Detroit for the value of the escapees. The trial ended in a hung jury, but, facing a retrial, two of the defendants paid damages and court costs in the final settlement. Incidents like these infuriated southern slave owners, who influenced Congress to adopt the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, making it easier for them to recover runaways. Michigan passed a Personal Liberty Act in 1855 to try to neutralize the federal law, and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified soon after the Civil War, made slavery illegal in the United States.
Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Cass County Bar Association August 16, 2005.