The main route of the CDFT begins with two historic African American churches in Chicago. Then south across the Little Calumet River and around the bottom of Lake Michigan. The “second stream,” the Sauk Trail Route begins on the Sauk Trail at Park Forest - McCoy Homestead and the historic Crete Congregational Church. They connect at La Porte.
Chicago to Detroit Freedom Trail
Commemorating the Journeys of Freedom Seekers
and the Responding Networks of the Underground Railroad
A Proposed National Historic Trail
DRAFT III 9/28/23
An Emerging Summary
Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project
Larry A. McClellan
Freedom seeker stories are journey stories. In the decades before the Civil War, roads and trails from Chicago to Detroit marked the journeys of people who had seized their freedom, leaving behind their enslavement in southern states. Once in northeastern Illinois, they set out for Detroit and freedom in Canada. In the years since then, along these same routes, there have been a broad array of other freedom journeys for African Americans. The Chicago Detroit Freedom Trail will serve for many to discover and re-discover these essential elements in our larger American story, in part by “following in the footsteps” of freedom seekers.
From the 1830s until the Civil War, many individuals and families escaping enslavement in southern states came into Illinois with most of these traveling toward Chicago. In northeastern Illinois, there were two streams of movement for freedom seekers. Coming up through the Illinois River valley, many chose to continue northeast to Chicago, then overland around the bottom of Lake Michigan and into northwest Indiana. From there they traveled across southern Michigan and onto to Detroit and freedom in Canada. The second stream of movement also came out of the Illinois River valley but continued east across Will County and southern Cook County in Illinois into northwest Indiana and onto Michigan and Detroit. Following these two streams, 3,000 to 4,500 people escaping from their enslavement came to and through the Chicago region in the decades before the Civil War. Almost all continued toward Detroit and Canada. Some, after reaching Chicago, found passage on ships and lake steamers from Chicago to Detroit; some traveled by lake steamers along the south coast of Lake Michigan and then overland to Detroit. Many went overland on the historic Chicago to Detroit Road.
In Indiana, the Chicago to Detroit Freedom Trail follows the old Detroit-Chicago Road through Hammond, Gary, along the dunes, in Crisman, Chesterton and Tremont. From Michigan City, the historic road goes southeast past the Low family farm and cemetery into La Porte. This crosses through Indiana Dunes State Park and National Park. South of that, the Sauk Trail Route runs through Dyer, Merrillville, in and near Valparaiso, Westville and La Porte. The two routes meet in La Porte and the CDFT goes north and east to South Bend, then north into Michigan. Taking the route through South Bend enables the Freedom Trail to include the movement of freedom seekers north through Indiana. From there, connections to the east can link to other sites as part of a Northern Indiana Freedom Trail.
Freedom seekers in Michigan used several historic roads on their journeys to Detroit and Canada. The Chicago to Detroit Freedom Trail follows their movement through northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana, and then, in southern Michigan, this movement combined with movement north through Indiana. Almost all of these travelers were heading toward Detroit and nearby areas to then reach safety in Canada. They were following the route of the Sauk Trail/Chicago to Detroit Road or moving further north and east along the Territorial Road and other connecting trails and roads. The Michigan Freedom Trail Commission has identified relevant sites in a number of communities including Cassopolis, Schoolcraft, Battle Creek, Marshall, Jackson, Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit. On the Sauk Trail route in Michigan, sites may be found near White Pigeon, Sturgis, Coldwater, Adrian, Milan, Ypsilanti and Detroit.
For information on how you might help with the development of the Chicago to Detroit Freedom Trail:
Contact the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad
Project through their Facebook page.
Tom Shepherd email@example.com
Larry McClellan firstname.lastname@example.org
Brother Sage Gillam email@example.com