WIN: Growing Recognition for the Freedom Seekers and Ton Farm Underground Railroad Site

“The Netherlands’ ambassador to the United States joined Thursday’s unveiling of a sign honoring the history of Dutch settlers who helped enslaved people traveling the Underground Railroad in Chicago.

“The sign details in English and Dutch how Dutch families — including Jan and Aagje Ton — settled in what is now Chicago and assisted people seeking freedom. Neighbors, local leaders, members of the extended Ton family and other attendees got a look at a mockup sign unveiled by Ambassador Birgitta Tazelaar and Rodney Harrington, board project member for the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project.

“The permanent sign will be placed later this year at the Ton Farm Underground Railroad site, which is now Chicago’s Finest Marina, 557 E. 134th Place, in Golden Gate. A previous sign dedication — one focusing on the freedom seekers and their journeys in the area — was held in 2022.

“The project is part of a community effort to spread the history of Chicago’s role in the Underground Railroad.

“‘Being here at Chicago’s Finest Marina, once the farm of Dutch settlers Jan and Aagje Ton, is an encouraging reminder that, even amidst that painful history, there are examples of inspiring moral conviction, the resilience of humans and humanity shared by the people of our two nations,’ Tazelaar said. ‘I’m talking about the courageous freedom seekers who escaped the bounds of slavery, heading north and encountering Dutch immigrant families living on a little Calumet River.’

“Starting in the 1840s, many immigrants came to the United States from rural areas in the Netherlands to start farms, form churches and establish businesses.

“The new sign at the Ton Farm site mentions Dutch settler Cornelius Kuyper and his family. Kuyper, along with Jan Ton, was a leader in the community. Both spoke English, a unique skill among Dutch settlers at the time, and were founding trustees of the First Reformed Church of South Holland, officially organized in 1848 in South Holland, then known as Low Prairie.

“Kuyper built the first store along what is now South Michigan Ave, said Kenneth J. Schoon, a professor emeritus at Indiana University Northwest. He also helped freedom seekers traveling the Underground Railroad from his home, once located in what is now Roseland on the Chicago to Detroit Road, which the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project heavily focuses on.

“‘Since assisting these freedom seekers could be dangerous, we know that the Kuyper and the Ton families took real risks in hiding and keeping these people in their homes and other outbuildings and elsewhere, and they didn’t just keep them,” Schoon said. “They would feed them, they would see to their other needs, provide winter clothing if necessary, and tell them where to go to reach the next family that would help them.'” (McDonald, Block Club Chicago, 3/22/24)

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago

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