Ann Arbor, Abolition, and the Civil War

From our nation’s inception, slavery was the dominant dividing issue. Michigan played an important role in the Underground Railroad, assisting fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada across the Detroit River. In 1836 delegates from seven counties met in Ann Arbor’s Presbyterian church to form the Michigan State Anti-Slavery Society. Not only did it urge abolition, it promoted education and voting rights for free blacks.

Though some parts of the North needed to draft men into the Union Army, Michigan citizens eagerly joined up. Ann Arbor’s three units reflected the town's makeup: the Steuben Guards, the Barry Guards, and the University Battalion. Men older than forty-five formed the Silver Greys as a home guard.

That's a Fact! It was illegal to help escaped slaves, so they had to be hidden in order to reach freedom.

Caption 1: Published in Ann Arbor in the 1840s by Methodist minister Guy Beckley, the Signal of Liberty was a nationally recognized journal relating the horrors of slavery. Beckley's home on Pontiac Trail was a “station” on the Underground Railroad.

Caption 2: When the news reached Ann Arbor in April 1861 that Fort Sumter had been fired on, the citizenry called on University of Michigan President Henry Tappan for an inspirational address delivered on the lawn of the courthouse in the center of town.

Caption 3: Moses Rogers. Agricultural implement dealer Moses Rogers often allowed the large upstairs hall of his building at Catherine and Detroit Streets to be used for Civil War relief meetings. The building is the oldest commercial building remaining downtown, and currently houses the Ann Arbor Observer.

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