DeLand and the Underground Railroad

Charles Victor DeLand

Charles Victor DeLand not only left his mark on local, state and national history; remnants of his presence linger today, providing history lovers with a unique opportunity to experience Jackson’s past. DeLand (1828 -1903) had many claims to fame. He was an ardent anti-slavery editor, a Civil War hero, a state Senator, and one of the movers and shakers that launched the Republican Party in Jackson in 1854. Reminders of his contributions abound, from Under the Oaks Park, where an historic plaque mentions him by name; to the Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper, which evolved, in part, from a paper DeLand published, the American Citizen.

An impressive stone monument on the grounds of our State Capitol also pays tribute to the Civil War regiment he founded, First Michigan Sharpshooters, and bears his name and rank of “Colonel.” But DeLand had a secret life that few people knew about. The crusader was among a select  group of Underground Railroad agents who transported fugitive slaves to safe houses along a corridor that passed through Jackson. DeLand’s mother, of Quaker stock, influenced her family to participate in the humanitarian network and his family harbored slaves in their Jackson home, which stood at the intersection of Franklin and Mechanic streets. When writing the voluminous “History of Jackson County, Michigan,” DeLand reminisced about the late night wagon rides in which he served as a conductor, transporting enslaved Americans who hid under corn or hay in his father’s lumber wagon. He wrote: “Many a weary night’s ride fell to my lot, along the new and rough roads, across Leoni and Waterloo, to aid these poor fugitive slaves on their way to freedom.” His crusades continued as a publisher. In fact, his abolitionist, pro-temperance editorials sometimes incited reprisals. On July 4, 1850, his newspaper office was torched with “fireballs” and “burned out,” he wrote in a column. But the irrepressible DeLand continued his anti-slavery campaign. In 1903, the crusading Underground Railroad agent and editor closed his eyes for the last time, having lived long enough to see his dream--the end of slavery--become a reality. He was laid to rest in the family plot in Mt. Evergreen Cemetery, Jackson.  The headstone proclaims the family’s distinction as belonging to a “Pioneer Family of Jackson.”

DeLand’s role in the Underground Railroad is detailed in: MICHIGAN’S CROSSROADS TO FREEDOM: the Underground Railroad in Jackson County. The book is available online at:

Charles Victor DeLand was a Jackson pioneer and Civil War hero.

DeLand was an anti-slavery editor and publisher of the American Citizen newspaper.

The DeLand home, at the intersection of Franklin and Mechanic streets, harbored fugitives.

This stone monument, on our State Capitol grounds, bears tribute to the Civil War regiment DeLand founded, First Michigan Sharpshooters.

Author Bio: Linda Hass is a fervent fan of local history. The Jackson resident has a master’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University and writes for several regional publications.

eNews Sign Up