North Of Slavery

In 1831 Thornton Blackburn and his wife, Lucy Blackburn, crossed the Michigan-Ontario frontier hoping to find freedom in Southwestern Ontario. Their enslavers in the United States pushed the government to try to extradite them, but to no avail.

As the Blackburns, Rose also fled to freedom by reaching and crossing the Detroit-Ontario frontier a few years later. Rose was unfortunately intercepted and jailed as he reached Canadian town of Sandwich. The Black community across that US-Canadian frontier quickly organized and came together to help Rose attain his freedom. An outstanding and successful fundraising campaign ensued, where members of the Black community in the area raised five hundred dollars, in a matter of days, to get Rose out of jail and buy his freedom. Their labor and unity empowered them to stand against Rose’s owner and forced him to release him from bondage. The Black community paid $200 to the jailor and $300 dollars to Rose’s enslaver, who left the town swiftly. 

Rose’s is but one freedom story, among hundreds of thousands, of people who risked it all to be free.  On June 15, 1858, seventy women, men and children fled their US enslavers seeking to reach the Canadian frontier. These seventy souls likely walked and at times rode hidden to certain depots where others helped them make their way to their hoped destination. At some point along the way, they boarded a train that took them across the Detoit-Ontario frontier and into Canadian territory. We may never know how many people in this group found freedom and how many were caught and returned to their US enslavers. 

Advertisements reflecting on journeys such as those embarked by the above mentioned seventy individuals were issued often and constantly. Journeys of escapees were numerous, and more than we may ever be able to learn about. News of freedom seekers reaching safe havens in Canada were disseminated widely and reached places as far South as Texas, and New Orleans. For instance on March 11, 1853, a New Orleans newspaper advertised that a large number of people had found freedom, and had settled in town across Ontario, including Buxton, and Chatham with the help of the Black community in that area. Advertisements (as this one below) were often issued to spread fear among the white communities of slave-desertions, and issue cautions to slaveholders of possible runaway schemes. These, however, never deterred enslaved people from fleeing or seeking freedom across any frontier, North, to Canada, or even South, to Mexico.

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