1833 : Thorton Blackbird and his Wife Lucie, Runaway Slaves, Rescued by Detroit African Americans
Jun 17 all-day

Runaway slaves Thorton Blackburn and Lucie escaped Kentucky, made their way to Michigan where they married and settled into a good life in Detroit. Unfortunately a visitor recognized Thorton and reported his presence to their former owners. Fugitive slave hunters arrived in Detroit and asked the sheriff to imprison the Blackburns until a court could determine whether the Blackburns were free or slaves. According to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, the Blackburns were determined to be runaways slaves and Michigan had to return them to their owners (June 15, 1833).

Detroit’s Sheriff Wilson knew the local African Americans were very upset with the decision, so he allowed the wives of two leaders of the Black Baptist Church to visit the Blackburns. After a daylong visit, two women left the jail. One was Lucie Blackburn wearing her friend’s clothes. Other friends took Lucie across the Detroit River to Canada. The woman who stayed in the jail in Lucie’s clothes was later freed.

June 17, 1833 was the day Thorton Blackburn was to leave for Kentucky. Sheriff Wilson led him out of jail in chains. Four hundred African American people had gathered to protest sending Thorton back to Kentucky. The sheriff abandoned his deputy, returned to the jail and locked the door. The protesters then attacked the sheriff’s deputy. Several protestors hauled Blackburn in a wagon to the Detroit River. They didn’t have any money to pay for his trip across the river to Canada, so one man sacrificed his gold watch.

Once the Blackburns were in Canada, twenty-one year old Acting Governor Stephens T. Mason of the Michigan territory requested that Canada return the Blackburns to Michigan. However, according to Canadian law, slaves could only be extradited — or sent back — if they had committed a crime in their country of origin. Escaping slavery was not a crime under Canadian law. Acting Governor Mason called the protest a riot and accused the Blackburns of starting it. Upper Canada’s Lieutenant Governor John Colborne was an abolitionist—someone who supported ending slavery. He said that he could not understand how Lucie or Thorton Blackburn could have incited a riot while in prison. He refused to return the Blackburns to Michigan. The Blackburns were finally really free.

In 1834, they moved to Toronto. Thorton Blackburn worked as a waiter. Later he started the first cab company in Upper Canada (now called Ontario). The cab, pulled by a horse, was painted red and yellow. He called it The City. Today, you can still see red and yellow cabs in Toronto.

Additional notes : The local sheriff was shot and fatally wounded during the two-day riot freeing Blackburn . It was the first race riot in Detroit, resulting in the first ever Riot Commission formed in the U.S.

Aftermath: Even though Thornton had made his way to Canada, the protests in Detroit did not subside.  Mysterious fires erupted throughout the city: first it was the stable near the jail, and later the Sheriff’s barn was burned down.  Mayor Chapin and the Detroit City Council ordered susptected agitators rounded up and thrown in jail to be tried on June 21 and 22.  Some white sympathizers were also charged, but out of the twenty-nine people who were tried for “unlawful assembly and a riot”, the eleven sentenced were all black.  Several…were either imprisoned for several weeks or ordered to work on municipal repair gangs.  In addition to the trials, blacks in the city were obligated to carry a lit lantern at night to make them visible to whites and a night watch was established to patrol the river.

The conflict that began as an effort to save the Blackburns from reenslavement turned into a community-wide expression of race animosity. Angry whites began assaulting black Detroiters on the streets, and white mobs burned over forty black dwellings to the ground. Yet despite clear intentions to repress black mobility and political expression, black protest against the institutional forces at work in Detroit continued.  Black dissenters organized a march in July of 1833 to demand the release of jailed detroiters who were not charges for any crimes. Rumors even spread that Afro-Canadians from Fort Malden were plotting to cross the river and set fire to the city. Finally on July 11, the jail erupted in a blaze of fire.

Mayor Chapin wrote the U.S. Secretary of War to request federal troops from Fort Gratiot.  The troops arrived on July 30, 1833 and martial law followed.  The mayor ordered that all black residents within the city limited had to pay a bond of $500 or leave the city.  The result was a massive outmigration of black residents across the border to Canada.
Sources :

Thornton Blackburn wikipedia entry

The Blackburns Escape : Michigan Time Traveler Kid’s History, February 2, 2004.  An account more suitable for children.

Blackburn Riots of 1833, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Research.   A condensation of Kaarlyn Smarz Frost, “I’ve God A Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad.  New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.  An account more suitable for adults.

1866 : Lewis Cass Dies In Detroit
Jun 17 all-day

Nicknamed the “father of popular sovereignty”, Lewis Cass was born in New Hampshire in 1782. He moved to Ohio as a child, and relocated to the Michigan Territory to help fight against the British in 1812. The following year he was appointed Territorial Governor. He remained in that position until 1831 when President Andrew Jackson named him secretary of war. In 1848, Cass was the Democrat’s nominee for President of the United States, but he lost the election to Zachary Taylor. Later, Cass served as U.S. Ambassador to France, as Secretary of State under President James Buchanan, and as U.S. Senator from Michigan. He was recognized as a staunch opponent of slavery and supported the right of each state or territory to make up its own mind on the divisive issue.

He died on June 17, 1866.  President Andrew Johnson proclaimed a day of national mourning. Michigan and Detroit bells tolled.

On June 20, 1866, funeral services were held in Detroit for Lewis Cass.

For more information about Lewis Cass, see Bill Loomis, “Lewis Cass, the titan of Michigan’s early years”, Detroit Free Press, June 28, 2014.

Michigan Historical Calendar, courtesy of the Clarke Hitorical Library at Central Michigan University.



1913 : First Auto Strike in Michigan & the Country
Jun 17 all-day

On June 17, 1913, the 1st automobile strike in Michigan and the country occurred at multiple Studebaker plants in Detroit. The Industrial Workers of the World, an union w/only 200 members in Detroit, were trying to gather support & began advocating for these workers.


, June 17, 2018.

1915 : Cross-Country Road Trip
Jun 17 all-day

On June 17, 1915, Edsel B. Ford (and a few other sons of Detroit industry) heading out of Dearborn for a cross-country road trip. Ford drove a Model T, naturally, while his friends came along in a Cadillac and a Stutz. They were headed to San Fransisco for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (World’s Fair) and arrived, after a few mishaps, on July 25th. The photo below was taken on Day Three when mud got the best of them just outside St. Louis, Missouri. outdoor

1945 : Dixie Ann Cheney Born, Early TV Star
Jun 17 all-day

In the early days of television – the 1950’s, to be precise – there was a television show based on the comic strip, “Blondie”. The entire Bumstead family was there: Dagwood, Blondie, son Alexander, daughter Cookie, and the pet dog Daisy with all her pups.

One of the stars of that show was born in Lansing on June 17, 1945; her name was Dixie Ann Cheney, but for her acting career, used the stage name of ‘Ann Barnes’.

Image result for blondie tv show 1957

Ann was 12 years old in 1957 when she played Cookie Bumstead, the daughter, in all 26 episodes of the one and only season.

Image result for blondie tv show 1957

After “Blondie” was cancelled, Ann landed some guest roles in other TV shows, the most notable being Wally Cleaver’s love interest, Frances Hobbs, for two episodes on “Leave It To Beaver”.

When the acting dried up, Ann tried her hand at singing and, in 1962, released a single on Protone Records, “Whispering Wind” backed with “Teen Years”. By now, she was combining her real name with her stage name, and “Dixie Anne Barnes” was her name on the record. You can find her songs on the CDs “Soda Pop Babies” (on which she was pictured) and “Restless Doll”.

That same year, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce elected & crowned her as the “Princess of Hollywood” for the month of April.

One summer when she was a teenager, she came back to Lansing to visit family. People from surrounding neighborhoods heard of her arrival and descended upon the household to gawk, talk, and get a picture or autograph. Her birthday happened to land during her Lansing visit, and Kwast Bakery delivered a special birthday cake!

Paul Petersen, an advocate for child actors, played son Jeff Stone on “The Donna Reed Show” and was a friend of Ann’s. According to Paul, Ann’s childhood was marred by her abusive parents. When she became an adult and moved back to Lansing, she didn’t like to talk about her acting years. It could be that her folks were “stage parents”, exploiting and pushing Ann into a showbiz career she didn’t particularly want.

Once back in Lansing, she went back to her birth name, Dixie Ann Cheney, and lived her life in near obscurity. She passed away on September 13, 2005 at the young age of 60. Her body wasn’t discovered until a week later.

Source :

John Robinson, “Did You Know This TV Star Was from Lansing?“, 99.1 WFMK Blog, February 15, 2019.

Ann Barnes wikipedia entry

1958 : Detroit Tigers’s First Player of Color
Jun 17 all-day

Ozzie Virgil played for three years with the Detroit Tigers

A decade before hometown hero Willie Horton would help the Detroit Tigers win a world championship, Ozzie Virgil took the field at Tiger Stadium on June 17, 1958, as the ballclub’s first player of color. Before a crowd of 30,000, he played third base, batted second and went 5-for-5 against the Washington Senators as the Tigers pounded the Nats 9-2.

Osvaldo Jose Virgil had actually worn the Old English D for the first time earlier that month, but in a road game.

Traded to the Tigers by the San Francisco Giants, Dominican Republican native Virgil also was Detroit’s first Latino player, according to team spokesman Ron Colangelo. He wore uniform Nos. 8 and 22 in his years with the Tigers.

Source : Zlati Meyer, “This Week in Michigan History”, Detroit Free Press, June 12, 2011, A.14.

June 17, 1873 : Clara Ward Born, Nineteenth Century Celebrity
Jun 17 all-day

Happy Birthday Clara Ward, Princess de Chimay!


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Clara Ward was born June 17, 1873 to Captain Eber Brock Ward of Detroit, Michigan’s first millionaire. She married the Belgian Prince of Caraman-Chimay when she was only 16; he was twice her age and rather poor. After a few years, and a couple of children, while dining out at a swanky Parisian restaurant she fell for the Hungarian ‘Gypsy’ violinist, Rigo Jancsi. The two eloped the following month, and Clara would marry two more times (to an Italian waiter and then a train station manager). In the 1890s she developed her art form of ‘poses plastiques’ (appearing in a flesh-colored body stocking) and appeared on stage at the Folies Bergere and Moulin Rouge. She was painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and written about by Marcel Proust. Definitely a colorful life; she died in Italy at the age of 43.

Text and Photos Source : Michigan Historical Review Facebook Page, June 17, 2017

First image taken from Eber Brock Ward wikipedia page.

1782 : Antoine Dequindre Born, Hero of Monguagon
Jun 18 all-day

Antoine Dequindre (June 18, 1782–February 24, 1843) was a soldier, landowner and shopkeeper in Detroit, Michigan in the first half of the 19th century. He is best known for heroism at the Battle of Monguagon (August 9, 1812) during the  War of 1812, when he was serving as a captain in the Michigan Legion. Dequindre Road, which runs through Detroit as well as Oakland and Macomb counties, is named for him.

Dequindre was born in Detroit. He served as an apprentice and clerk, and in 1810 opened his own store in the city. When war broke out with England in 1812, Dequindre raised a company of riflemen, which joined the Michigan Legion. During the Battle of Monguagon, Dequindre’s company was the first to attack and enter the British breastworks, and his men later sank a British gunboat on the River Rouge with a cannon mounted on shore. For his conduct, he was tendered a commission as major in the U.S. Army. He declined the position but was thereafter known as Major Dequindre


Clarence Munroe Burton, “The City of Detroit, 1701-1922“, Volume 4.

“A Warship” (PDF) – via Great Lakes Maritime Institute.

1855 : The Steamship Illinois is First Ship To Pass through Sault Ste. Marie Locks
Jun 18 all-day

Great Lakes Maritime Society Image of Illinois (Steamship), courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The steamship Illinois became the first ship to pass through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, which connect Lakes Huron and Superior via the St. Mary’s River. Workers spent two years building two 350-foot locks, which allow vessels to navigate the twenty-one-foot difference between the lakes. The state of Michigan operated the locks until 1881 when the federal government took control. Today, the locks are the world’s busiest and carry more annual tonnage than the Panama and Suez Canals combined. By 1997, the total tonnage locked through “The Soo” was nearly 8.4 billion tons. Between 1987 and 1996, the average annual tonnage was 85.5 million tons.

Source : Michigan Historical Calendar, Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.

1898 : Bob-Lo Island Opens
Jun 18 all-day

On June 18, 1898, the Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park opened for the first time on Bois Blanc Island, ON, Canada. It would be a favorite summer destination for Detroiters for the next century.

Clipping from Detroit Free Press, June 19, 1898 provided by Michigan Past Twitter Feed

Postcard provided by Michigan Historical Society.  Shown here are picnickers in 1916 w/casino in the background.