Archived Story

Underground Railroad Days highlight rich Vandalia history

Published 8:34am Thursday, July 15, 2010


Cassopolis Vigilant

VANDALIA — Vandalia may be a tiny village of just more than 400 people, but it has a big history.

Unfortunately, many of its residents and people in the surrounding area do not know much about its historical significance, according to Carol Bainbridge of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County.

“Everyone asks, ‘where’s Vandalia?’” she said. “I tell them that Vandalia may be a little village but it has a huge, huge, important history. The history of this area, especially this little village, impacted this entire country.”

With events like the Kentucky Raid of 1847 and key stops on the Underground Railroad, the area was influential in the fight against slavery.

Bainbridge and the URRS are hoping to help educate the community through the first Vandalia Underground Railroad Days on Saturday and Sunday.

“Categorically, people do not know their history,” said Cathy LaPointe, also a member of the URRS. “There’s a real legacy of freedom here. But people don’t know about it. They don’t talk about it in schools. People should be proud of what happened here.”

Bainbridge said the event will be both a community celebration and a history lesson. Throughout the two days, there will be arts, crafts and food vendors, along with a car show on Saturday from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. at Milo Barnes Park.

During the weekend, members of the URRS will conduct 30-minute van tours of the Vandalia and Cassopolis area, stopping at historical markers along the way.

The URRS has also arranged a full schedule of speakers for the weekend. On Saturday at 11 a.m. Michael Nassaney, a professor of anthropology at Western Michigan University, will speak. In 2002, Nassaney led a group of archaeologists in locating the site of Ramptown, the final stop on the Underground Railroad for many African-American slave fugitives.

Ramptown, located in Vandalia, was a place where Quakers gave African-Americans five- or 10-acre plots of land to farm and get themselves established financially.

On Saturday at 1 p.m. a forum on the Kentucky Raid mural, which is currently being painted in downtown Cassopolis, will take place.

The mural commemorates the raid that took place in 1847 when a group of Kentucky slave catchers came to Vandalia to try to take back several African-American slaves living on land owned by Quakers.

But a group of about 200 white farmers, free African-Americans and Quakers intervened. In order to avoid violence, the Quakers had the slave catchers go to Cassopolis, the county seat, for a legal decision. The slave catchers were then indicted for kidnapping and assault and battery.

LaPointe says the raid was a key event in causing the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which preceded the start of the Civil War.

Bainbridge will wrap up the presentations on Sunday at 2 p.m. when she talks about the Underground Railroad in Cass County.

All the activities for Underground Railroad Days are free.

For more information on the event or the Underground Railroad Society, contact Carol Bainbridge at the Fort St. Joseph Museum at (269) 683-4702. To reserve booth space, contact Beverly Young at (269) 476-2344.

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