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Cass County, Michigan

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Official Website

History

The county is named for Lewis Cass, the Michigan Territorial Governor at the time the county was created in 1829. Cass later served as the United States Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson, thus making a case for including Cass County as one of Michigan's "cabinet counties".

Cass County was not as heavily forested and had more fertile prairie land than other nearby areas of Michigan. During early settlement, it attracted numerous settlers who wanted to farm and grew more rapidly in population.

The county quickly developed industry as well. As early as 1830, a carding mill was started in the county on Dowagiac Creek, a branch of the St. Joseph River. Although the Sauk Trail (Chicago Road) passed through the southern part of the county, early settlement did not come primarily from eastern Michigan. Instead, settlers from Ohio and Indiana migrated who had learned of available prairie lands, reaching the Michigan Territory via a branch of the Chicago Road leading from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The village of Cassopolis was platted in 1831 and intended as the county seat, because it was the geographical center of the county. It had no settlers at the time.

After 1840, the black population of Cass County grew rapidly as families were attracted by white defiance of discriminatory laws, including the Fugitive Slave Law. Numerous highly supportive Quakers helped blacks settle in the area, and the land was low-priced. Free and refugee blacks found Cass County to be a haven. Their development of a thriving community attracted the attention of southern slaveholders.

In 1847 and 1849, planters from Bourbon and Boone counties in northern Kentucky led raids into Cass County to recapture escaped slaves. They were "surrounded by crowds of angry farmers armed with clubs, scythes, and other farm implements", resisting their attempt.

The raids failed to accomplish their objective but strengthened Southern demands for passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required residents and law enforcement even in free states to support capture of refugee slaves, and increased penalties for failure to do so. Biased toward slaveholders and slavecatchers, it required little documentation and put free blacks at risk for capture and sale into slavery. Many in the North resisted the law, especially in abolitionist strongholds, and it increased tensions contributing to the Civil War.

Cass County became known early on for the anti-slavery attitudes of its population. Pennsylvania Quakers made a settlement in Penn Township in 1829. This community later became a prominent station on the Underground Railroad. One established Underground Railroad route ran from Niles through Cassopolis, Schoolcraft, Climax, and Battle Creek, and thence along the old Territorial Road.

Cass County contains a large reservation of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, which also contains territories in Allegan, Berrien, and Van Buren counties, as well as extending south into the state of Indiana. The reservation headquarters are located in the county in the city of Dowagiac and also extends into the townships of Pokagon, LaGrange, Silver Creek, Volinia, and Wayne.

Adjacent Counties

Cities & Villages

  • Cassopolis (County Seat)
  • Dowagiac
  • Edwardsburg
  • Marcellus
  • Niles (part)
  • Vandalia

Links

Wikipedia

The Criffield-Whiteley House

First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pokagon

The George Washington Jones House

Mason Dist. No. 5 Schoolhouse

Dowagiac Depot

The George Newton House

Smith's Chapel

Thompson Road Bridge