Riot of 1833
In 1831, Thornton Blackburn and his wife Lucie, slaves from Louisville, Kentucky, ran away from their slave master and relocated to Detroit. For more than two years Thornton and Lucie were well-liked and working as part of the Detroit community. In the summer of 1833, the Blackburns were arrested and placed in jail for violating the Fugitive Slave Law of 1783 by their former slave master who found them. They were to be charged as fugitives from labor. After a trial by Justice Chipman, the Blackburns were turned over to Sheriff John M. Wilson and lodged in the jail. On a Sunday, Lucie was visited by two of her friends, Mrs. Madison Lightfoot and Mrs. George French at the jail. During the visit Lucie exchanged clothes with Mrs. French and was taken in this disguise across the Detroit River into Amherstburg, Ontario. Mrs. French was eventually released and then re-arrested for aiding Lucie before fleeing to Canada as well with her husband.
The next morning, Thornton was rescued by a mob of both black and white Detroiters. A fight ensued and one of the rescuers was shot, while the sheriff suffered a fractured skull and some teeth. Thornton was given a gun at some point and locked himself inside of a coach – refusing to get out and threatening to kill anyone who tried to return him to slavery. In the confusion, he managed to slip out of the coach. As the fighting continued and turned into a riot, soldiers were called and every black man and woman found on the street were arrested and jailed. This became the first race riot in Detroit. Eventually, some innocent people were released, while others had to either pay a fine or were forced to work, ball and chained on road repairs. Those that were considered the instigators were fined and forced to work. Ironically, it was Mrs. Lightfoot who was fined $25 for being the “prime mover in the riot” and her husband jailed for slipping the gun to Thornton.
The Blackburns were later arrested in Canada. The Blackburns’ former slave master and the United States government demanded they be brought back to the United States. The Canadian government refused and released the Blackburns. Allegedly, 10 years later, Thornton 10, in disguise, went back to Louisville and rescued his mother from slavery. The Blackburns later moved to Toronto and established a taxi service before becoming wealthy and donating land for a school.