Detroit Historical Events American/World Historical Events


1805 The Great Detroit Fire, started by the town baker and fueled by unusually strong winds, destroys all but two structures.

1806 Detroit becomes a city.

1807 September - Peter and Hannah Denison, refugees from bondage, sue Catherine Tucker, their former enslaver, to gain their children's freedom. Judge Augustus B. Woodward's decision sets lasting precedent for the parameters of slavery, gradual emancipation and abolition of slavery in the Michigan Territory.

October 29 - Canadian merchant, Richard Pattinson, attempts to recover refugees from enslavement who have come to the Michigan Territory from Sandwich, Upper Canada. His appearance before the Justice of the Peace of Huron / Detroit district is in vain. Judge Augustus B. Woodward uses his Tucker v. Denison ruling to deny extradition.



1800 September 27 - The city of Washington in the Federal District of Columbia is the new capital of the United States.

November - Thomas Jefferson is elected president of the United States.

1803 Lower Canada (present-day Quebec and the Maritime Provinces) becomes the first jurisdiction in North America to abolish slavery.

1804 November - Thomas Jefferson is re-elected president.

1808 The United States officially bans the African slave trade. Enslaved Africans may be traded inter-state, but no international trade is allowed. Still, there is illicit smuggling of Africans into southern ports that continues through to the start of the Civil War.





1814 Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) abolishes slavery. The Oro Township settlement is established in Canada West (formerly Upper Canada; present-day Ontario). Although most of the settlers are whites, it is the first new settlement to openly seek refugees from U.S. slavery.



1820 - The federal census is the first to include the Michigan Territory. Detroit Population: Total: 1,442, African American: 67 (4.9%).

1825 Erie Canal opens and with it opportunity for Great Lakes states to market goods in the eastern states and for eastern migration to the Great Lakes. The time involved to travel to Michigan from the East is reduced from weeks to days.

April 4 - John R. Williams is the first elected mayor of Detroit.

1827 April 13 - The Michigan Territorial government enacts An Act to Regulate Blacks and Mulattoes, and to Punish the Kidnapping of Such Persons. Both personal liberty law and Black Code, African Americans have access to the courts but must register court validated free papers with the county sheriff. (Black Codes were a separate discriminatory law for African-American citizens. Laws such as these, enacted in many states, were known as Black Codes).

October - Washtenaw County banishes a Negro man from the town of Scio for non-compliance with the Act to Regulate Blacks and Mulattoes: This is the only known enforcement of this act.

1828 June - The Michigan Territorial government passes an amendment to the Act to Regulate Blacks and Mulattoes creating civil penalties for non-enforcement of the law.

Sept. 11 to Oct. 23 - Enforcement of the Act to regulate Blacks and Mulattoes fails. Wayne County Sheriff Thomas Sheldon publishes a "Notice to Blacks and Mulattoes" in the I outlining the provisions of the act, which most people continue to ignore.

1829 Harsh new Black Codes in Cincinnati, Ohio stimulate an exodus of many of the city's able African-American middle class. They move northward across Lake Erie to establish the Wilberforce Settlement in Canada West -- the first Negro settlement in Canada's Great Lakes Peninsula. It is named for famed British abolitionist, William Wilberforce.




1830 - Detroit Population: Total: 2,222 Black: 126 (0.56%)

1832 First Baptist Church accepts William Butler as its first African-American member.

1833 June 15-16 - The Blackburn incident touches off an anti-slavery riot when so-called, "Kentucky slave hunters" arrest Thornton and Ruth Blackburn, who had escaped from slavery almost two years previously. The subsequent judgment for their return to slavery touches off the riot and successful guerrilla effort to free them. Assembled to investigate the Blackburn Riot, what is believed to be the first riot commission in U.S. history, calls for enforcement of the 1827 Black code, a nine o'clock p.m. curfew and a ban on docking privileges for African Americans.

1837 January 26 - Michigan is admitted to the U.S. Its first constitution prohibits slavery. It abolishes capital punishment, making the state the first jurisdiction in the English-speaking world to do so.

June - African-American members of the First Baptist Church petition for an end to in-church segregation and ask to sit on the main floor as fully participating members.

July - Madison J. Lightfoot, Cornelius Mitchell, and William Scott are the first African-American members to withdraw their membership from the First Baptist Church. Within a year all the African-American members have left. They form the Colored American Baptist Church, later called Second Baptist Church, the first African-American church in Detroit.

1839 July - The Colored Methodist Society forms and petitions the Common Council of Detroit asking for use of the old Military Hall.



1831 August 21 - After experiencing a series of prophetic visions, enslaved preacher Nat Turner leads a band of faithful throughout Southhampton County, Virginia. Turner and his men kill sixty white people, mostly enslavers, overseers and their children.


1840 - Detroit Population: Total: 9,102 Black: 193 (2.1%)

Reverend William C. Monroe becomes the first regular pastor of Second Baptist Church, the first Church founded by Detroit's African-American community.

1842 Detroit establishes a system of free education, including one school for 86 African-American students.

1846 A group of African-American businessmen bring to Detroit its first two-wheeled cabs and begin ferrying passengers.

St. Matthew's Protestant Episcopal Mission forms and enjoys a brief time as Detroit's most influential African-American church. Reverend William Monroe converts and is ordained as an Episcopal priest. African-American businessman and abolitionist/underground railroad activist William Lambert also joins St. Matthew's as warden.

1847 January -Enslavers attempt to apprehend escaped refugees Adam Crosswhite and his family in Marshall, Michigan. The Crosswhites are rescued when the local vigilance committee exerts armed resistance against their capture.

Robert Cromwell, an enslaved person of African descent, is captured in Detroit by former owner David Dunn and an agent, was rescued through the intervention of the judge, his clerk and a rowdy crowd, including Underground Railroad stationmasters William Lambert and George deBaptiste. Cromwell was taken to Canada while Dunn was arrested on kidnapping charges.

1848 November - Michigan Democrat Lewis Cass fails in bid for U.S. presidency. His candidacy is harmed, in part, because of the prevalence of underground railroad activity in Michigan. Many southern whites, Democrats and Republicans, believe he harbored abolitionist sensibilities.

1849 Reverend William King establishes the Elgin Association in Canada West, named for Lord Elgin, governor general of Canada West. Later the settlement is called Buxton in honor of the prominent abolitionist, Thomas Buxton.

July 3 Frederick Douglass, a prominent African-American abolitionist who had escaped from slavery years earlier, arrives in Detroit as part of an anti-slavery tour but fell ill and was forced to leave. Detroit is gripped by excessive heat and organizers fear Douglass could succumb to the recent outbreak of cholera.