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From Detroit to the Promised Land

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by Rachel Wollschlager on 12 November 2012

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Transcript of From Detroit to the Promised Land

From Detroit to the
Promised Land The People Involved Thornton and Ruthie Blackburn:
Fugitive slaves who escaped from their owners in Kentucky
Thornton's owner = Susan Brown
Ruthie's owner = Virgil McKnight
The couple fled in broad daylight, traveled up the Ohio River and continued to the Michigan territory
Settled there for approximately 2 years, where they became well respected among their peers
After 2 years, they were recognized and brought to trial for being runaways The People Involved Alexander D. Frazier: the lawyer that defended the Blackburns
Benjamin G. Weir and Talbot Clayton Oldham: the lawyers that defended the owners, Weir being a prominent lawyer in his region
John M. Wilson: Sheriff at the time of the incident Benjamin Willoughby: emancipated slave from Kentucky, very influential within his community
Madison and Tabitha Lightfoot, George and Caroline French: prominent couples within the Blackburn's community The Issue Thomas Rogers recognized Thornton Blackburn as a fugitive slave on the streets of Detroit
2 years later, he disclosed the information, and the owners' lawyers immediately traveled to Detroit to retrieve the runaways
The judge didn't have much of a choice
Fugitive Slave Law of 1793: required that the couple be returned to their owners
Northwest Ordinance of 1787: guaranteed that Southern fugitives in the Northwest territories would be returned to their owners The Verdict The judge announced that the Blackburns would be returned to their owners
The African Americans in the courtroom were appalled at the decision
The lawyers booked passage for the Blackburns on a steamboat the following day
Backlash Sheriff Wilson was afraid of racially charged backlash and tried to delay the steamboat's sailing to Monday (instead of Sunday) when the city's black population would be back to work
This just enraged the city even further, rumors of his corruption spread
Angry and armed crowds made their presence known around the jail The Secret Meeting Prominent black couples, along with the Blackburn's lawyer and his friend gathered at the house of ex-slave Benjamin Willoughby
There, they came up with a plan to rescue the Blackburns The Plan in Action On that fateful Sunday, crowds of blacks gathered by the jail and by the steamboat docks
Tabitha Lightfoot and Caroline French asked Sheriff Wilson if they could visit Mrs. Blackburn in her cell to pray with her; the Sheriff agreed
Caroline French stayed in Ruthie Blackburn's place in the jail cell, while Ruthie escaped unnoticed
Ruthie then traveled to what is now Ontario, Canada What Happened to Thornton? The next day, Thornton was taken to the docks; a huge crowd of angry black citizens surrounded him
He offered to try to calm the angry crowd. When he started to speak, a man threw a gun at him and told him to 'shoot the rascal' (the sheriff)
Thornton fired a shot into the air
This marked the beginning of the Blackburn Riots of 1833, the first ever race riot in Detroit's history
This was all well-planned by the Lightfoots, Frenches, and Willoughbys
While everyone was distracted by the commotion, a group of young carried Thornton away to a nearby horse-drawn cart Results Many of the city's black population were rounded up and jailed
Some were sentenced to hard labor
Madison Lightfoot, and George French were incarcerated for a short time
A curfew was maintained and militiamen patrolled the streets of Detroit
There was a backlash against blacks in Detroit for supporting the Blackburns
Many were beaten and abused openly on the streets
Blacks started selling their Detroit property and moving to Upper Canada Results The Mayor of Detroit sent a letter up to the sheriff of Upper Canada, demanding the arrest of Thornton Blackburn and his rescuers. When the Blackburns were arrested, the issue of fugitive slaves in Canada arose
Sir John Colborne (Upper Canada's lieutenant governor) and his attorney general Robert Simpson Jameson defended the Blackburns
They decided that the Blackburns would remain in Canada, a decision that would set the precedent for all future runaway slave disputes
The Blackburn case truly established Upper Canada as the main terminus of the Underground Railroad
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