Highlights of the 1847 Kentucky Raid in Cass County
In the spring of 1847 during the Easter holiday twelve African Americans from Kenton and Boone Counties freed themselves from the Kentucky farmers who held them in slavery. The African Americans followed a plan that they had put together to secretively leave the farms where they were enslaved and walk twelve miles to Covington, Kentucky. After their twelve-mile walk in darkness, they went down to the river bank, found a boat and rowed themselves across the river to Cincinnati, Ohio.
These freedom-seekers did what most enslaved African Americans had to do to break the chains of slavery. They took the first steps to freedom all by themselves because there was no Underground Railroad on southern soil.
On the free side of the Ohio River in Cincinnati look-outs from black communities near the River usually received freedom-seekers and arranged for their safe transfer to hiding places. The first helpers would then hand the freedom-seekers over to other Underground Railroad agents who could transport them father north.
One African American who came to Cass in 1847 named Perry Sanford remembered that two men met them after they climbed out of the boat. One man was black and the other was white. The men found different places to hide everyone in the group. The whole group of twelve was hidden, rested and fed in Cincinnati for about a week before escorts started with them on the Underground Railroad journey north. The group made it to Cass County in about three weeks and most of them were offered work on Quakers’ farms Penn, Porter, and Calvin Townships.
The raid on Cass County was also well-planned. The Boone and Kenton County slaveholders planned their own conspiracy to kidnap the people who had freed themselves. Months before the raiders came to Cass, they hired a spy to come to Cass to find out where the people they claimed as their “property” were living.
The spy, who called himself “Carpenter,” told everyone he met that he was an abolitionist newspaper reporter. After talking to people in Cass County, “Carpenter” returned to Kentucky and gave the slaveholders the information they needed. When the slaveholders came to Cass, they knew exactly which cabins and which farms to invade thanks to “Carpenter.”
In the courtroom in Detroit, one of the Cass County Quakers recognized “Carpenter” and testified that he had talked to him about “runaways in the area”!
Five years before the Raid, Rev. Charles Osborn moved to Cass where his son, Josiah, and Josiah’s family were living. Rev. Osborn moved to Cass because he was disqualified from serving on an executive committee of the Indiana Yearly Quaker Meeting for refusing to remain silent about the sin of slavery.
After moving to Penn Township, Rev. Osborn organized a new Quaker Meeting named the Young’s Prairie Anti-Slavery Friends. This new Meeting took a strong stand against slavery, and it was this group of Quakers who led the anti-slavery cause in Cass County. They gave assistance to African American freedom-seekers who came to Cass on the Underground Railroad. The Birch Lake Quaker Meeting in Cass disowned their members who joined the Young’s Prairie Anti Slavery Friends Meeting.
Some of the people who helped in Cass County’s Underground Railroad were not Quakers. William Holman Jones and David Thompson Nicholson were both prosecuted by the Kentuckians for helping the freedom-seekers get away, but neither Jones nor Nicholson were Quakers. At least one African American who lived in Vandalia also worked regularly with Zachariah Shugart as an Underground Railroad escort. His name was Henry Shepard.
Although no one was fatally injured during the Raid, there was violence between the Kentuckians and some of the black men inside the cabins. Several black men resisted the invaders and fought back when the raiders tried to seize and shackle them.
But the violence did not spread outside of the cabins. If it had spread, many could have lost their lives. But Josiah Osborn prevented all-out violence. Josiah offered a compromise to the Kentuckians and the crowd of more than 100 blacks and whites from surrounding farms. Josiah appealed to the raiderrs and to the crowd to go to Cassopolis and give the captured people a fair trial Osborn’s appeal defused everyone’s anger, and they all headed for the Cass County Courthouse.
Nine African Americans-- some men and some women--were captured during the Raid, but they were later released. The nine captured and thirty-four others left Cass within a few days of the Raid. That means that a minimum of forty-three African Americans were living in Cass in August 1847. All of them had close connections to the nine people the Kentuckians tried to capture. All forty-three were willing to leave everything in Cass behind and move on. If they were free people, would they have left?
In the Cass County courtroom, the Kentuckians lost their case. When the Kentuckians went home empty-handed, they complained bitterly about the “scoundrels” in Cass who kept them from recovering their “property.” Their complaints went from their local newspapers to the Kentucky legislature to the floor of Congress in Washington. The Raiders’ complaints and others’ added fuel to arguments for a stronger Fugitive Slave Law.
By the time the second trial took place in US Circuit Court in Detroit, there was a new Fugitive Slave Law and the Kentuckians scored a victory against the Cass County abolitionists.
The unsuccessful recapture of human “property” in Cass and Calhoun Counties and in other states inflamed the conflict between the northern and southern states and led, ultimately, to the Civil War.
Researched and written by Dr. Veta Tucker this information is available in its entirety in the publication: A Twenty First Century History of the 1847 Kentucky Raid by Fortitude Graphic Design and Publishing: Kalamazoo, MI 49001, 2010. A black and white copy may be purchased for $5.00 plus $1.50 postage and handling ($2.00 to mail to Canada). Please contact the: Minority Coalition of Cass County, PO Box 413, Cassopolis, MI 49031 for a copy (by sending a check or money order and your complete address and phone number).