Thursday, October 06, 2005

Archaeological Team Discovers Underground Railway Site

In Vandalia, Michigan, archaeologists have uncovered artifacts that show that area is most likely location of the settlement known as Ramptown, where fugitive slave lived before the abolition of slavery.

WMU team verifies fugitive slave site: Researchers submit final report offering evidence unearthed of legendary community near Vandalia.
For years, street banners and a state historical marker have touted Vandalia's history as a stop along the Underground Railroad.

It's estimated that 1,500 fugitive slaves arrived in Cass County seeking freedom. They were aided mostly by sympathetic Quakers and free blacks who risked imprisonment. It was illegal, even in free states, to help fugitive slaves.

Some left the county for Detroit or Canada. For the approximately 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.

Within a few decades of the abolition of slavery, the structural remains of Ramptown no longer could be found. The location of the community, originally known as Young's Prairie, never appeared on any 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," said Nassaney, an anthropology professor at Western Michigan . . . .Without doing any digging, the archaeologists found skeletons of farm animals, nails, horseshoes, and pieces of pottery, glass and brick. Because the sites didn't coincide with the locations of residences on maps from the mid-1800s, and using written and oral accounts of the area's history, the team concluded that Ramptown residents had occupied the sites.

Nassaney said he's glad the artifacts were found when they were because it's hard to say how much longer they might have survived above ground, exposed to the elements.
Note that the artifacts the researchers have recovered were all above ground for all this time, and yet no one had known for certain that this was a former area of settlement for escaped slaves. Amazing the new discoveries one can make for even very recent historical events. Who knows how many other lost settlements in North America alone await discovery?

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