In August of 1847, forty slave owners came into Battle Creek in search of fugitives. The Underground Railroad stationmaster for Battle Creek, Erastus Hussey, led a group of angry townspeople and drove them out of town. Undeterred, the Kentuckians temporarily retreated to northern Indiana to regroup but then staged a full-scale raid in Cass County. They knew it was the site of a Quaker settlement where many had fled when they escaped enslavement. Catching the community unprepared, they surrounded the cabins and captured nearly all of the fugitives who had taken refuge in that section.

Eurastus Hussey

When they came to door of the slave cabin where two of the escapees were sleeping in the attic and demanded entry one of them recognized the voice of one of the slave owners. The runaways put up a fight and one of them managed to escape through the roof of the cabin. He alerted Steven Bogue, the Quaker who owned the farm. Bogue drove into Cassopolis to get help.

Fugitive slaves resisting capture – detail from a print titled "A Desperate Situation In A Barn"

Although many of the fugitives were captured, they managed to hold the slave catchers off until Stephen Bogue returned from Cassopolis with a group of 40 men. The slave catchers were charged with destruction of property and breaking and entering and they were all taken to jail, along with the fugitives they had captured. The trial lasted several weeks, but the verdict was finally given that colored men were not property in Michigan! Curiously, during the days of the trial the jailed fugitives kept mysteriously disappearing between the courthouse and the jail until they were all gone! The slave owners ended up returning home disgusted failures.

A government agent stands between armed groups of whites and Freedmen in this 1868 picture from Harper's Weekly.

After this incident some of the fugitives moved on and settled in Battle Creek. Battle Creek settlers included Thomas Henderson, William Casey, Perry Sanford, and Jo Skipworth. They had been aided by Erastus Hussey in their escape. Free blacks migrating into the Battle Creek area included Henry Y. Clark, the Lewis Jackson family, Hannibal Chase, Henry Lewis, Eliza Grayson, and the John F. Evans family.

Hannibal Chase
Created By
SHARE Society for History And Racial Equity

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