Black History: Special Delivery!!
Thornton and Lucie Blackburn fled from enslavement in Kentucky in 1831. They fled north to Detroit, MI and became beloved members of the local community. Their former master attempted to apprehend them from Detroit in 1833. The Blackburn’s were jailed for violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. A day before they were scheduled to be returned to slavery, the actions of several brave African American men and women secured their escape to permanent freedom. Two African American women, Mrs. Lightfoot and Mrs. French visited Lucie Blackburn in jail. Lucie exchanged clothing with Mrs. French. This disguise enabled her to escape from jail undetected. She was then able to travel across the Detroit River to Amherstburg, Ontario. Once the sheriff discovered that Mrs. French had aided Lucie by providing her with a disguise; he threatened to return her to slavery in Lucie’s place. However, she was allowed to leave the jail later that day. The next day when Lucie’s husband Thornton Blackburn was scheduled be returned to slavery. A group of African Americans stood outside of the jail protesting on his behalf. As Blackburn was being taken from the jail, the crowd closed in on him. Mrs. Lightfoot slipped Blackburn a pistol. Blackburn aimed the weapon at the slave catchers. He then ran and locked himself inside the coach that was to carry him back to Kentucky. He vowed to kill anyone who attempted to apprehend him.
Chaos and confusion ensued and the gathering turned into a riot. The sheriff was fatally shot by an unknown attacker during the riot. Thornton Blackburn was able to flee the coach and was quickly transported to Canada. Those participating in the riot were fined and assigned to work on repairing the streets. The person who gave Blackburn the pistol as well as Mrs. French (and her husband) who helped Lucie Blackburn also fled to Canada. Thorton and Lucie Blackburn’s escape and the riot that ensued was well publicized. Canadian courts protected them from being returned to the United States.
The Blackburns settled in Toronto and built a home there. The Blackburns became active in their new community. They became anti-slavery activists and aided those who escaped from slavery to Canada. While working in Toronto, Thornton Blackburn took note of transportation advancements that were absent in Toronto but prominent in other Canadian cities. He took note of the horse drawn “cabs” used in many other Canadian cities. Thornton, saw an opportunity to fill the transportation gap in Toronto. Though illiterate, using a blueprint of a cab from Montreal, he had his own cab constructed in Toronto. In 1837, his yellow and red cab was completed. He named it, “The City”. It was drawn by one horse and was able to carry four passengers along with the driver. Blackburn’s cab company would be the first one in Toronto. It was extremely successful and many others followed in his footsteps.
When Thorton Blackburn died in 1890, he left his wife Lucie, $17,000, which would have been a very large sum of money at that time. The site of their home has been designated as a national Canadian historic site.