Black History:  Special Delivery!!

Image result for gateway to freedom memorial
Gateway To Freedom Memorial in Detroit, MI, by African American artist, Ed Dwight

Detroit, MI is known for being an important stop on the Underground Railroad.  You may not know that people were also enslaved in Detroit and surrounding areas.   Many roads, schools, and places are named after wealthy slave-owning families.  If you live in or near Detroit, you will recognize these names, Macomb, Campau, Beaubien, McDougall, Brush, Cass, Hamtramck, Dequindre, and Groesbeck Livernois, Rivard, and many others. From its founding in 1750, slavery existed during Detroit’s existence as a French, British, and then American settlement. The Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library has an original ledger book of William Macomb.  The ledger lists his property and includes over 20 enslaved individuals.  The first mayor of Detroit, John R. Williams (two streets bear his name), also owned slaves along with priests of the Catholic Church in Detroit.  The men who financed the Detroit Free Press were also former slave owners.  The Free Press used its platform to support slavery prior to the Civil War. 

People of African and Native/Indigenous descent were both enslaved in Detroit.  Enslavement of native peoples occurred first. Slavery played an integral role in the relationship between European settlers and Native tribes.  The Native system of enslavement involved taking captives to settle conflicts or build alliances. This would occur by women and children of rival factions being exchanged or given to confirm an alliance or settle a dispute.  When the French arrived, they also adopted this practice to establish trade alliances with Native peoples as well.  Native women were victims of labor trafficking and sexual violence.  The enslaved were used as pawns to help bolster trading alliances between European settlers and Native tribes.  Slavery continued to exist in the Northwest Territory (which included Michigan) even though it was abolished in 1787.  Slave owners used loopholes or flat out ignored the law to maintain their ownership of the enslaved.

Continue reading “The Hidden History Of Slavery In Michigan”