1847 Kentucky Raid: The Underground Railroad and Fugitive Slave Law in Cass County, Michigan
In 1847 Kentucky plantation owners followed a group of escaped slaves and recaptured them in Cass County, Michigan. The following court case made national news as the owners demanded the return of their property under the Fugitive Slave Law. The "Kentucky Raid" was stopped by local people who sent the runaways across the border into Canada instead of confining them to jail.
Backstory and Context
The Fugitive Slave Law required anyone to report runaway slaves and assist in their capture. the law and attempts to enforce it in Northern communities led to a growing belief among Northerners that the Southern planters had grown so politically powerful that they threatened local sovereignty. While few white Northerners supported abolitionists, they also refused to accept the terms of the Fugitive Slave Law as it came to represent the disproportional power of distant Southern planters. In community after community, Southern slave catchers found that the majority of Northerners refused to help them capture former slaves.
At the same time, white and black Northerners expanded their efforts to support the Underground Railroad. In 1847, several property owners from Bourbon County, Kentucky attempted sent a spy along the Underground Railroad. That spy spent enough time in Cass County, Michigan to locate the Quaker families that were giving aid to runaways. The spy returned to Kentucky with his report, leading to the decision to send slave catchers to this county.
The arrival of slave catchers in Cass County was known as the "Kentucky Raid of 1847," a name that reflect local outrage and the perception of an invasion. At least nine African Americans were captured and claimed as property by the Kentuckians who claimed they had escaped and were fugitive slaves subject to the terms of the federal law. However, when they tried to return to Kentucky with their captives, Cass County residents confronted the Southerners. Bloodshed was avoided when the local people suggested jailing the runaways and awaiting a trial. Not only were the nine captured runaway spirited away before that trial, but about 30 additional other people who were likely runaway slaves living in Cass County also slipped into Canada.
This "Kentucky Raid" and the reaction of local residents against slave catchers may have been the reason why Virginia's Sampson Sanders planned to send his manumitted slaves to Cass County.