Long lost underground railway site found in Michigan





Over the years, Sondra Mose-Ursery received blank looks from neighbors in response to her questions about a nearly forgotten 19th-century community of fugitive slaves. "You'd ask people about Ramptown, and no one had heard about it," said Ms. Mose-Ursery, a local historian. That was before a team from the anthropology department at Western Michigan University verified the existence of the community with the discovery of the first archaeological evidence of fugitive slaves in Michigan, said Prof. Michael Nassaney, the lead investigator of the team.

Experts estimate that 1,500 fugitive slaves arrived in Cass County before the Civil War seeking freedom. They were mostly aided by Quakers and free blacks. Some left for Detroit or Canada.

For the 200 who stayed, the Quakers provided small plots of land in exchange for harvesting crops or clearing trees for farmland. Blacks lived in sharecropper-style cabins on the land, sometimes for years.

In 2002, archaeologists uncovered 1,143 artifacts at 12 sites in Penn and Calvin Townships near Vandalia in southwestern Michigan.

The Western Michigan team submitted a final report last month to the Michigan Historical Center, a state agency that commissioned the research to identify Underground Railroad sites.

A few decades after the abolition of slavery, the Ramptown remains could not be found. The location of the community, originally Young's Prairie, never appeared on historical maps, and people with firsthand knowledge started dying out.

"Because this was a clandestine activity, it's been difficult to try to identify evidence of this," Professor Nassaney said.

His team surveyed sites for signs of domestic households. Searching in agricultural fields being plowed, the team found nails, horseshoes and pieces of pottery, glass and brick.

Because the sites did not coincide with housing on maps from the mid-1800's, the team used written and oral historical accounts and concluded that Ramptown residents had occupied the sites.



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