Bonine House offers local connection to Underground Railroad

VANDALIA, Mich.--- At corner of State Road 60 and Penn Road in Vandalia, sits a house whose walls tell the story of a people desperate for freedom. The James E. Bonine House, which was built in the 1840s, soon became a landmark safe haven on the Underground Railroad.

"This story is inspirational and it’s important today," said Cathy LaPointe, Treasurer of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County (URSCC).

"It’s a very focal point of the underground railroad because we had two lines that connected here," said author, Cindy Yawkey. "We had the Quaker Line and the Illinois Line that came and connected here."

Bonine and his wife Sarah, who were both Quakers, began lending their carriage house to freedom seekers who would arrive by wagon, and hide out in present day Vandalia on their quest to Detroit and the free soil of Canada.

"They just knew it was wrong and they said it was a sin against God and man," said LaPointe.

The resolve of the community, known then as Ramp Town, faced its ultimate test in 1847 when slave catchers from Kentucky came to Cass County seeking escaped freedom seekers. 

"The Quakers and the Free Blacks stood up and stopped them from bringing the slaves back to Kentucky," said Yawkey.

Many of those freedmen went on to take up arms and fight in the Civil War.

"Over 100 black men from mostly Calvin township went to fight in the Civil War," said LaPointe. "They joined the 102nd US Colored Troops and they are buried at the cemeteries along the tour."

Today the Bonine House has been preserved by the URSCC which offers tours of the house and historical reenactments by local school children.

"Many of these kids play their own ancestors, Black and white, Quaker, and free Black," said LaPointe. "They discover their family history and their connection to the Underground, some of them."

Yawkey says the house which stood for freedom can still offer lessons to today's climate.

"They were people that lived and breathed their passion and their compassion, their understanding and I hope that we can find that same compassion and understanding with each other," said Yawkey.

For more information on tours of the Bonine House, visit the URSCC's website at urscc.org.

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