Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits

Tiya Miles. New Press, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-62097-231-1
Miles (Tales from the Haunted South), professor of history at the University of Michigan, illuminates an “alternative origin story” of this much-studied city, which was “born of the forced captivity of indigenous and African people.” Detroit prospered from trade in animal skins rather than plantation agriculture, but it was black men who played a dominant role in the transportation of these furs across New France; meanwhile, indigenous women became a sexual resource plundered by French colonists. Miles gracefully recounts Detroit’s first century as it passed from French to British rule. The transition so antagonized local indigenes that in 1763 the Ottawa leader Pontiac launched a rebellion that took the British colonial military months to suppress. Miles emphasizes that even had the Ottawa succeeded, the situation of Detroit’s 1,500 slaves might not have improved. Neither the British nor the fledgling U.S. brought them release, and as nonplantation states turned against chattel slavery, Detroit’s whites and some Native American inhabitants continued to engage in the domestic slave trade. Despite slowly expanding rights, people of color could hope at best for a “hard-won and consistently compromised freedom.” Miles places Detroit’s history in a more expansive frame than its 20th-century boom and decline, emphasizing racial inequalities far in advance of the Great Migration. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/07/2017
Release date: 10/03/2017
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