MC Memories: The naming of Free Soil.

January 16, 2019

President Martin Van Buren

MC Memories: The naming of Free Soil.

MC Memories is a weekly history column brought to you by Ludington Woods Living and Memory Care. Each week this column will feature a story from our county’s past.

#MCMemories #MasonCountyHistory.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Many of Mason County’s place names have relevance to the time the county was settled in the mid-1800s. Several places have names honoring civil war heroes or events, Lincoln, Mason, Meade, Grant, Logan, Custer, and Victory.

Probably the most unique name, though, is Free Soil. The name actually dates back to a short lived pre-Civil War political party.

The Free Soil Party was founded on a single issue, to oppose the expansion of slavery into the Western territories. The party originated in New York after the state Democratic convention refused to endorse a proposed law that would have banned slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico during the Mexican-American War. A faction of Democrats known as the Barnburners objected to slavery in the territories and opposed the 1848 Democratic presidential nominee Lewis Case.

The Barnburners joined with anti-slavery members of the conservative Whig Party and the Liberty Party to for the Free Soil Party. Former President Martin Van Buren ran as the party’s nominee for president during the 1848 Presidential Election, with Charles Francis Adams Sr. running as vice president. Van Buren won 10% of the popular vote. Whig Zachary Taylor won the election, however.

The party was mostly absorbed into the Republican Party between 1854 and 1856 by way of the Anti-Nebraska movement.

Ultimately, two senators and 14 representatives were elected to the 31st Congress, which convened from 1849 to 1851.

In 1848, Free Soil Township in Mason County was named after the party. At that time, the township stretched from Lake Michigan to what is now the Lake County line, making up the modern townships of Grant, Free Soil, and Meade townships. The first settlement of the township was located where Guerney Creek empties into Lake Michigan in what is now Grant Township. Grant Township was divided when Mason became a county in 1855. Meade Township was divided in the early 1910s. 

The Village of Free Soil originated in the early 1860s when Philip Riter and his family settled east of what became Riter Swamp. Many of the settlers were loggers.

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