On March 6, 1863 some of Detroit’s white residents began violently attacking black residents, looting and burning down black-owned or occupied property. Unrest grew out of news that a black man, Thomas Faulkner, had raped a young white girl, Mary Brown. While city authorities turned a blind eye, the angry mob torched thirty-five buildings, murdered one man, and severely injured many others. The bloody riot resulted in the establishment of a permanent police force in Detroit.
Scott v. Sandford, also known as the Dred Scott Decision, is one of the most important, controversial, devastating and revealing court cases in American history. Dred Scott began suing for his freedom from Irene Sanford in St. Louis in 1846, but a series of appeals brought the case to the United States Supreme Court in 1856. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the Court’s 7-2 decision in favor of Sanford, denying Scott his freedom. The ruling stated that African Americans were not citizens and that the federal government could not regulate slavery in states or territories.
In 1847, David Giltner traveled to Marshall, Michigan to capture Adam and Sarah Crosswhite and their four children on behalf of his father, Francis Giltner. White and black members of the community refused to let the family be taken. Later that year, David Giltner and Francis Troutman, who accompanied Giltner, filed a civil suit for $2,752—the supposed value of the Crosswhites. After two trials, Giltner was awarded $1,926. The story and subsequent trial spread like wildfire throughout abolitionist circles.
Shortly after the American Revolution, John Jay traveled to Britain to resolve outstanding issues within the Treaty of Paris. He worked with the British Prime Minister on issues of debt settlement, British withdrawal, trade agreements, and the fur trade. This meeting resulted in what became known as the Jay Treaty, in 1794. This treaty allowed British citizens, who remained in Michigan, to maintain all property including enslaved Africans and Native Americans.
Lane Theological Seminary attracted students from Ohio, eastern states and the South. In 1834, spirited abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld enrolled at the institution and began to rally students to embrace abolition and the immediate emancipation of slaves. Weld, along with William and James Allan, two southern brothers, began hosting debates to discuss abolition. James Bradley, former slave and Lane’s only black student, spoke of his experiences in bondage at the debates and was instrumental in convincing many southern students of the importance of abolition. The board of trustees put an end to the debates, causing 75 of the 103 students to withdraw from the school.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could issue laws governing how fugitive slave cases were handled, Michigan passed two laws known as the “Personal Liberty Laws.” Act 162 provided accused African Americans the right to a trial by jury and the writ of habeas corpus. It also penalized slave catchers who accused free persons of color of being fugitives. Act 163 prohibited sheriffs from holding accused runaways in common jails and aiding slave catchers.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion, also known as the Southampton Insurrection, sent waves of terror throughout the South. On August 21, 1831 Turner led nearly sixty men in a revolt that left fifty-five white Virginians dead. Fifty-six slaves were executed for participating and nearly two hundred more were injured and killed by angry white mobs. Turner evaded capture for six weeks before confessing and standing trial. He was executed on November 11, 1831.
In 1830, black leaders in New York and Philadelphia organized the National Negro Convention. Delegates attending the four-day convention established the American Society of Free Persons of Colour and vowed to work to achieve freedom and equality for African Americans. The National Negro Convention reconvened annually in various cities until 1864.
The Congress of the Confederation drafted the Northwest Ordinance while participants of the Constitutional Convention were writing the Constitution. The ordinance pertained to land northwest of the Ohio River and created Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. It banned slavery in new territories, but in doing so set the precedent for fugitive slave laws.
In 1858, slave catcher Anderson D. Jennings arrived in Oberlin, Ohio in search of fugitive slaves. Recognizing a man named John Price, he arrested Price on behalf of John Bacon, a Kentucky slave owner, and held him at a tavern in nearby Wellington. News of Price’s arrest spread quickly and more than 50 people gathered to rescue him. Federal authorities immediately sought to punish all who participated in the raid. A grand jury in Cleveland issued warrants for 37 rescuers but only 14 appeared in court on December 8, 1958. The trials began the following spring and gained national attention.