WIN: Ton Farm Underground Railroad Site Receives Recognition with Illinois Historical Marker

“A Southeast Side site that was part of the Underground Railroad is having a sign dedication event this Saturday.
“The Jan and Aagje Ton Farm was the first Underground Railroad site in Chicago to be recognized by the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom project. The farm once provided a safe harbor to people who had been enslaved but escaped to freedom.
“‘It’s part of our long effort — almost a 20-year effort — to showcase and bring awareness to the Ton Farm site, which was an important stop on the Underground Railroad back before the Civil War and emancipation,’ said Tom Shepherd, one of the project’s volunteers.
“Larry McClellan, a historian and retired professor who leads the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project, submitted the farm to the Network to Freedom in 2019. The site was approved the same year. There was a celebration at the time, but now the Illinois State Historical Society marker is in place, making the site an ‘official deal,’ McClellan said.
“McClellan has studied the history of the Underground Railroad in Illinois for more than 30 years, he said. He’s identified dozens of sites in northeastern Illinois where 3,000-4,500 formerly enslaved people traveled to find refuge and passage to the North, he said. Among those sites are 20 spots in Chicago proper where people who wanted freedom traveled to and received aid, McClellan said.
“The Ton Farm, run by Dutch immigrants and abolitionists Jan and Aagje Ton, helped formerly enslaved people in their journey North, McClellan said.
“‘There was a very active Underground Railroad here,’ McClellan said. ‘In the 1850s, it was really run by a group of Black abolitionists, Black activists. Uniquely, at the southern edge of Chicago, there was a settlement of a lot of Dutch farmers, and several Dutch families ended up directly assisting freedom seekers who were leaving Chicago on their way to freedom in Canada.’

Dedication of the Illinois Historical Marker at the Jan and Aagje Ton Farm Underground Railroad Site, September 24, 2022. From left to right, Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago; Cheryl Johnson, People for Community Recovery-PCR; Lt. Governor Julia Stratton, State of Illinois; Tom Shephard, Southeast Chicago Historical Society. Photo Credit: Ward Miller / Preservation Chicago
“McClellan said Saturday’s event is important because it will celebrate and highlight the history of Ton Farm and the city’s often ignored and forgotten Southeast Side.
“‘The stories of freedom seekers and the Underground Railroad, along with other aspects of Black history in this country — these are stories that have either been ignored or have been deliberately pushed aside, and we’re very excited that we’ve been working with a very diverse group of community people and other folks … to kind of bring back to light,’ McClellan said.
“‘The movement of freedom seekers and the Underground Railroad road is a very important part of American history [that] has been just overlooked for too long.’ (McDonald, Block Club Chicago, 9/21/22)

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