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abstract

Detroit, the Upper Country, and the Old Northwest are often thought of as the end point to the richly textured, centuries-old Franco-Indian world, then as a key site of Indian nations’ resistance to British expansion and, later, as the precursor to competing national sovereignties between the United States and British Canada. This article explores the black experience in northern and western frontier regions from the 1750s through the 1780s to add to our understanding of this cosmopolitan place. The stature of Detroit and its vicinity relied on complex networks. The majority Native residents first forged these exchanges, later incorporating smaller numbers of European colonists and scattered imperial authorities. The unique character of what the French called the pays d’en haut and the British named the Upper Country rested on heterogeneous and interethnic networks; Detroit’s cosmopolitan residents often challenged the imperial projects that had sent them to this region in the first place. These characteristics significantly shaped the experiences of Africans in this place and time. As Indian communities and actors struggled to reassert their preeminence on the landscape and in the historical record, especially during Pontiac’s War, they opened up a new world of possibilities for enslaved and free Africans in their wake. Black individuals, as this article suggests, could widen their opportunities and, in the extreme, perhaps their status as well.

Keywords

Detroit, pays d’en haut, James Sterling, Sam Tony, African-American, William Johnson, Negro, Angélique Beaubien, Anishinabeg, Mary Jemison

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James Sterling was among the many Euro-American veterans seeking opportunity as the Seven Years’ War drew to a close. An immigrant from Ireland, Sterling served as an officer and as a commissary in Niagara and the northwest during that war, then translated this experience and the skills he had acquired to Britain’s newly acquired Upper Country, formerly known to the French as the pays d’en haut and, to Native residents, as the world’s center. The place Sterling arrived at in 1761 was Detroit. As a cosmopolitan trading town, Detroit was just the sort of spot for this ambitious man to do well in. By summer 1765 Sterling was an established merchant, locating and monitoring the progress of all sorts of goods to and from his base. On August 20 he wrote to John Duncan regarding a specific cargo, eighty-five packs of peltry, sent by their partner John Porteous and being transported from Michilimackinac to Schenectady, via Detroit. In the letter’s attention to merchandise, cost, profit, and reliability of transport for goods, Sterling reflected the concerns typical of a trader. Sterling was concerned and displeased that Porteous had put this shipment under the supervision of Charles Morrison, an Anglo-American laborer; the Detroit merchant evaluated Morrison as lazy and slow. It would be preferable, Sterling expressed to Duncan, to have ‘‘one of the Negros’’ oversee this shipment rather than Morrison.1 Sterling’s letterbook leaves neither a record of Duncan’s reply nor further information from Porteous, so whether Sterling’s advice in this affair was taken remains unknown. What we see, though, is that Sterling wanted to replace a white man’s labor with that of ‘‘one of the Negros,’’ a color-blind solution to an unsatisfactory arrangement. James Sterling lived in a transitional moment that allowed for new imperial opportunities. His statement shows that race did not always limit such opportunities to white men alone. These enslaved African boatmen complicate Detroit’s historical demographics, suggesting some roots of a black city before the twentieth-century Great Migration. Just like Sterling, these people of color in the Upper Country challenged, benefited from, and marked both Native America and the British Empire.

French imperial desire to access indigenous continental trade had led colonists to explore and, by 1701, forcibly settle the narrows—de troit—south of Lake Huron and west of Lake Erie. The straits hosted numerous Native residents and travelers: Odawas, Potawatomis, Wyandots and later Wabanakis, Miamis, Ojibwes, and Fox. Fort Ponchartrain, Detroit’s initial [End Page 285] military installation, and the later city profited from the region’s rich cross-cultural interactions and possibilities over the next sixty years. At midcentury multiple Native nations made the city a space of commerce and politics and ‘‘created an emergent culture that was unique to Detroit.’’ Crossroads of trade and conflict continued expanding when the region shifted to British jurisdiction after the capitulation of Montreal in 1760 and the formal cession of New France to Britain in 1763. By that point, Detroit’s French population hovered at around nine hundred residents (in addition to a rapidly growing English, Irish, and Scottish minority), but Native inhabitants continued to outnumber Europeans by more than two to one, making Detroit, more properly, still an Indian town rather than a French or English one.2

Not too long after relocating to Detroit, Sterling set about strengthening his ties to local communities in the Upper Country. Success and profits depended on access to both Euro-American and Native American products and required Sterling to cultivate both constituencies. One way to do so was through marriage—what Sterling decided he needed was a bride chosen from among Detroit’s notable French families. In 1765, shortly after forming his business partnership, Sterling married the daughter of the prominent French coureur de ville, Antoine Cuillerier dit Beaubien.3 James Sterling further bolstered his local and long-distance trade advantage by tapping into available African labor, both free and enslaved, because his Detroit was becoming home to an increasing population of African descent.4 [End Page 286]

The French introduced chattel slavery of Africans to Detroit when Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac brought bonded laborers to help construct his fort in 1701. Enslavement of Africans at Detroit remained small-scale in contrast to Indian slavery, a trade in which the city had long experience. During the 1740s and 1750s, the number of enslaved Africans steadily increased in New France’s urban areas, in part because conflicts between New France and Britain’s colonies yielded black captives taken from British forts and colonies. At the same time in the French Illinois Country, slaveholding—and the population of African descent—also grew quickly through trade with Louisiana.5 Although the clues the archives provide are elusive, the probability that some of these individuals migrated by choice or by force to the Great Lakes is inescapable. In the Articles of Capitulation negotiated by General Jeffery Amherst and Governor General Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal at Montreal in 1760, Article 47 dealt directly with the protection of human property, the ‘‘Negroes and Panis of [End Page 287] both sexes . . . in the possession of the French and Canadians.’’6 The treaty was negotiated at Montreal, then disseminated to French forts around the American interior to ensure compliance with Amherst’s terms. After signing the agreement, Governor Vaudreuil wrote to the commanders of France’s mid-continent forts to apprise them of the news. He explained to them that French troops and subjects ‘‘will be allowed to sell to the English or French their goods in order to take the proceeds into France, or take them with them if they decide to return at the peace. They will keep their Negroes and Panis, but they will have to return those they have taken from the English.’’7 Making an exact ethnic identification of the slaves listed in the records remains a challenge. Nevertheless, the number of enslaved and free African persons in the former New France and pays d’en haut grew as English troops, merchants, and settlers moved north and west after 1763.8

Detroit, the Upper Country, and the Old Northwest are often thought of as the endpoint to the richly textured, centuries-old Franco-Indian world, then as a key site of Indian nations’ resistance to British expansion, and, later, as the precursor to competing national sovereignties between the United States and British Canada.9 James Sterling’s statement about his boatmen triggers a reason to deepen our consideration of Detroit in this period. Exploring the black experience in northern and western frontier regions from the 1750s through the 1780s adds to our understanding of this cosmopolitan place. Detroit and its vicinity’s stature relied on complex networks forged among the majority Native residents, smaller numbers of European colonists, and scattered imperial authorities. The unique character of the pays d’en haut privileged the tension between the ‘‘state resources [End Page 288] . . . that allowed [networks] to flourish’’ and Detroit’s cosmopolitan residents, who often challenged ‘‘the very imperial projects that backed them in the first place.’’10 These characteristics significantly shaped the experiences of Africans in this place and time. As Indian communities and actors struggled to reassert their preeminence on the landscape and in the historical record, especially during Pontiac’s War, they opened up a new world of possibilities for enslaved and free Africans in their wake. Black individuals could widen their opportunities and, in the extreme, perhaps their status as well. The critical element for individuals of African descent in this region may well have been that they were not immediately seen by any other group as willing agents of anyone’s empire. Context drove their opportunities and did not predetermine their consequences.

This essay explores various facets of this African experience in the world around Detroit. Blacks helped articulate differences between the French regime and the British; new alliances and connections between residents of the former pays d’en haut and the new Upper Country were likewise sited productively on black bodies. Though Euro-American and Native residents of the Upper Country were numerous enough to build dense interpersonal, commercial, and diplomatic networks, the absence of stable networks characterized life for most of the region’s African residents in the 1760s, 1770s, and 1780s. Still, in spite of this and their small demographic presence, African individuals (enslaved and free) caused real imperial headaches for Britain in ways that differed from those in Britain’s other colonies. Some individuals treated in this essay, including the Sun Fish, Louis Cook, Sam Tony, and Ann Wyley, achieved a prominence that few other people of African descent in this region would claim. Their presence on the margins or in the heart of the Upper Country helped define the possibilities open to other, less well-documented people of African descent.

African and Indian overlaps existed everywhere along the borders of Native and colonial America. Many historians have traced the relationships among African Americans, the French and British, and American Indians, teasing out what William Hart calls the complicated ‘‘mutabilities of race.’’ Centered on the New York colony, Hart’s study provides a model of how to illuminate a specific moment and geography in which Europeans, Africans, and even Indians could reimagine their constructions of self to shift themselves between racial categories.11 This scholarship is not limited to [End Page 289] Hart; many historians have mined this rich past, delving into questions of bondage and racial politics, and have successfully challenged racially driven stereotypes of slaveholders and slaves.12 ‘‘The cultural frontier where Indian met African,’’ writes James Merrell on eighteenth-century Catawba-African relationships, was focused on fruitful and fraught relationships between [End Page 290] diverse peoples of color that ‘‘fluctuated wildly between intimate friendship and bitter hostility.’’ In some cases these hardened into complicated but more divisive racial lines in the nineteenth century. In other places, such as in the Mississippi and Arkansas valleys or the Old Northwest, Native ‘‘jurisdiction’’ prevailed longer and complicated imperial and early national categories of race and extensions of Euro-American authority. All these histories challenge and expand our ideas of who or what constituted ‘‘indigenous, loyal, or imperial.’’13 Studies by Kathleen DuVal, Tiya Miles, Claudio Saunt, Sophie White, and others of southeastern, central, and northern borderlands show how we can investigate hybridity without, as Joyce Chaplin admonished, lavishing ‘‘attention on the population that needs it least: white settlers.’’ In these works, Indians and Africans occupy center stage, so that actors of color become the lenses through which relationships (including those with white agents) are organized.14 Looking at Detroit and the Old Northwest in the 1760s and 1770s provides the opportunity to engage in a similar project. Examining specifically the possibilities and issues that materialized in this unique window of time enriches these historiographies. Most important, recovering the fragmentary historical presence of Africans in the Great Lakes region accesses their lived experience and emphasizes how small and seemingly insignificant events and individuals challenged racial binaries in the broader empire.

africans in the mid-eighteenth-century northern borderlands

People of color surface in the correspondence among colonial officials, Indian superintendents, and merchants in the Northeast and Great Lakes at midcentury in references that are often fragmentary and cryptic. This incomplete record can be fleshed out by comparisons with neighboring regions, such as western New York, that offered similar dynamics of Native power, settler encroachment, and imperial oversight. Individuals of color who inhabited this particular place in the 1750s and 1760s (and beyond) [End Page 291] usually rose to archival prominence on the basis of their skills as mediators working, at times, with European empires.15 Others fled from European attempts to exert powers over both the landscape and indigenous communities and appear through lucky happenstance, their paths crossing those of notable individuals whose stories survived. Although they are all exemplary because of the comparatively rich records they left behind, these individuals demonstrate the types of unions that could be forged at this time between Native nations inimical to British expansion and the people of African descent who negotiated indigenous worlds.

If success is defined as security and power, then the most successful actors of African descent living in this era were the free mediators, men who served multiple constituencies and could negotiate across different axes of power. Sir William Johnson, the British superintendent for Indian Affairs in the Northern Colonies, relied on a network of informants and brokers of diverse backgrounds. The Sun Fish (O-gah’qaah) exemplifies the diversity of Johnson’s network, as William Hart’s work has shown. Johnson identified this man alternately as a Seneca chief and as a free mulatto, and he patronized the Sun Fish in order to conduct work in Indian Country on behalf of Britain. Not every African or African American person took up residence within Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) villages, as the Sun Fish eventually did, but his narrative points out that transitioning into Indian life was not out of reach for the enslaved. The Sun Fish demonstrated how rapidly enslaved and free individuals could acquire the skills in the languages and protocols required to move between multiple villages in Native America and transmit messages between these and white communities. The influence wielded by the Sun Fish did not rest solely in him, however; it relied equally on the status and power afforded his Seneca wife within her own community.16 [End Page 292]

Indigenous communities sympathetic to British or French interests, as well as villages that challenged all European pretensions, also had their own exchanges with African Americans. The fluidity and influence of the Sun Fish’s Haudenosaunee kinship resembled the connections that grounded the success of Colonel Louis. The son of an Abenaki mother from Odanak/Saint François and an African American father, Louis Cook was born in Saratoga in the early 1740s and taken captive in a joint Franco-Indian 1745 raid, led by Paul Marin de la Malgue, which placed Cook’s father in servitude at Montreal. A French officer, perhaps Marin, threatened the boy with a similar enslavement because he was both a captive and a person of African descent. Determined to prevent this fate, Cook’s mother directly appealed to her Native captors, arguing for her son’s status as an Abenaki. She successfully obtained her son’s freedom and together they found residence, and later adoption, at a réserve. After a childhood spent at Kahnawake, the young man, at this point known as Atiatoharongwen, fought alongside the French in the Seven Years’ War. In the 1770s Cook chose a path apart from pro-British Mohawks, becoming instead an ally to American forces.17

Cook and the Sun Fish were not alone in their negotiation of complex positions vis-à-vis French, British, and Native interests, using the unique skills they could offer to leaders in all these communities. In the Six Nations during the same half of the eighteenth century, at least three other men are identified as individuals of note with African backgrounds. Duck (So-wak), Joseph Hodge (‘‘Black Joe’’), and Tochanuntie (‘‘the Black Prince of the Onondaga’’) rose to prominence as negotiators and respected voices in the [End Page 293] community.18 If the Sun Fish or Cook occupied the elite end of a mediation spectrum, other individuals could undertake similar work in less formal exchanges, the sort that focused on day-to-day trade rather than Native and imperial diplomacy. An Albany runaway slave, almost certainly of African descent, served as an interpreter at an unnamed Canadian Mohawk town, according to William Scudder, presumably attending to local matters rather than broader geopolitics. At ‘‘Oswegotchy’’ in 1756 an English captive, Robert Eastburn, sought employment at the Canadian public works under the management of a Negro who ‘‘speaks English, French, and Indian, well.’’19

That individuals like the Sun Fish and Cook rose to command such privileged positions and mobility shows that the pervasive identification of blackness with enslaved servitude had not foreclosed possibilities in the Northeast or, later, in the Northwest. But Indian slaveholding in the North nevertheless expanded in the eighteenth century. For Native communities, slavery was a reaction to increased availability of African labor. It also allowed indigenous peoples a way to address ever-expanding white territorial claims that extended European and African encroachment onto indigenous lands. Native peoples had long understood how property damage [End Page 294] economically and psychologically destabilized the Europeans who were usurping their lands. Carrying off slaves for sale, or for use in Native space, accomplished this effectively.

As Indians found ways to cement their access to prestige or vital goods and other items necessary to their communities’ well-being, enslaved African men, women, and children increasingly became their targets during times of conflict. The enslaved individuals taken by Algonquians and French-Canadian officers after the siege and surrender of Fort William Henry in 1757 were destined for continued bondage. La Corne Saint-Luc, an experienced French-Canadian marine, had fought with réserve, or mission, Nipissings during the siege and had the necessary respect and influence among them to negotiate for the release of one of their British prisoners. Yet La Corne was also one of New France’s preeminent slaveholders and thought nothing of appropriating a British man of color for himself as a spoil of battle.20 As Ian Steele has noted, Indians specifically targeted Africans as captives because of their resale value—white captives could be ransomed but a black slave might never escape his or her fate and accordingly fetched a higher sum. That disparity appeared in the prices set for the Fort William Henry captives taken north to Montreal: in the grand sales after the battle to indigenous and Canadian sellers and buyers, one French officer recalled ‘‘blacks are sold for 600 to 1500 francs, and whites for 120 to 200.’’21 Beyond being viewed by indigenous warriors, diplomats, and clan mothers as a valued commodity through which to obtain goods desired more by Native communities, enslaved and free Africans could also be read as agents of empire, and they became targets of violence accordingly.22 Louis Cook’s foiled enslavement exemplifies the difference in the fate of black slaves with no access to Native avenues of status and those who were not able to persuade indigenous observers of their ability to assimilate into a Native America.

Indians’ reputation for African captivity and resale clearly resonated with [End Page 295] some men and women of African descent at the same time that the Sun Fish and Cook enjoyed freedom. Such reality created affinities that, in one case, ran counter to what modern scholars might expect. White settler colonialism, based largely on expropriated Native land and African labor, did not necessarily create a sense of solidarity between Indians and Africans alone or exclusively. Following the destruction of the Sullivan Campaign of 1778, Mary Jemison was one among many Seneca refugees seeking safety and sustenance for her young family, as the threat of an especially harsh winter loomed. Her path led her to Gardow Flats, and the homestead of ‘‘two negroes, who had run away from their masters sometime before,’’ and who ‘‘lived in a small cabin and had planted and raised a large field of corn, which they had not yet harvested.’’ Hiring herself out as a laborer, Jemison soon found subsistence and shelter, ‘‘at their request, to take up my residence with them for a while in their cabin, till I should be able to provide a hut for myself.’’ And in an ironic twist, the couple offered a particular protection to the young mother. ‘‘The good old negro, who hired me, who fearing that I should get taken or injured by the Indians, stood by me constantly when I was husking,’’ Jemison reminisced, ‘‘with a loaded gun in his hand, in order to keep off the enemy, and thereby lost as much labor of his own as he received from me, by paying good wages. I, however, was not displeased with his attention.’’23 The concern displayed for Jemison by the elderly man reveals how some free and enslaved blacks could internalize colonial prejudices against Native peoples. Indians’ trafficking and slave-holding of Africans boosted the effectiveness of colonial propaganda that sought to divide ‘‘red’’ from ‘‘black’’ and prevent anticolonial alliances.24 Perhaps these fugitives feared a return to bonded service under the Haudenosaunee. Indians could just as easily have been the masters they had ‘‘run away’’ from. At the very least, in their eyes Jemison was not a Seneca. Jemison’s narrative reveals nothing of conversations that took place inside the cabin between herself and the nameless couple. Had discussions ventured to compare the fugitives’ and Jemison’s status as former captives? Did such shared experience transcend their understanding of the boundaries of race? The most salient common ground for these three people was in their position as refugees in the clash between European settler colonialism and [End Page 296] Native sovereignty, but not in the usual categories of African, Indian, or European.

The Sun Fish and Louis Cook, like the nameless fugitives who aided Mary Jemison and the Afro-Canadian manager at Oswegatchie, disrupt our assumptions about how relationships of black individuals, Indians, and empires played out along the frontier. These men and women vigorously engaged with these places and communities, articulating myriad ways of belonging. The diversity of indigenous adoption made space for the Sun Fish and Cook in unique ways. In extending British and French, and even (after 1783) the United States’ influence and territorial ambitions, the Sun Fish and Louis Cook played an active role in empire building that is often attributed solely to Euro-Americans. That space was constantly challenged, however, by figures like the fugitives at Gardow Flats and also by the Native peoples who targeted black captives for reasons other than simply racial animosity.

the black city

In the newly acquired Upper Country, James Sterling represented an ideal type of British individual migrating after 1760—he was ambitious, financially connected, and pragmatic. As he and many British subjects moved into Canada, they brought enslaved Africans with them, men and women in the service of individual officers and wealthier merchants. General James Murray, the military governor of Quebec, hoped that enslaved labor might speed colonial development. Murray’s household, like those of his privileged peers, served as a model for those aspiring to social and economic rank— and Murray’s household had slaves.25 Making an exact ethnic identification is challenging, but from the 1760s onward the number of Africans in Detroit increased steadily. The British arrival augmented Fort Detroit’s existing population of 62 slaves, first slowly and then with increasing vigor in the 1770s and 1780s. A 1773 census recorded 46 men and 39 women. A decade after that, in 1782, 179 slaves appeared. By the 1790s approximately 300 slaves of African and Native descent resided at Detroit.26 New British [End Page 297] residents, such as a captain in the Detroit garrison who purchased a panis youth, learned to adjust to the Upper Country’s long-standing practices of Native slavery.

Embracing slavery carried risks too. Slavery triggered Anishinaabe discontent with British rule that exploded into a two-year war. Indigenous residents of the Great Lakes resented the British words aimed to subjugate and ‘‘enslave’’ them, and they were offended by the execution of an enslaved Indian panise (woman) in 1762 for the murder of John Clapham.27 Clapham’s death reveals how some British observers easily conflated the terms Indian and African—some British colonial newspapers described the November 1762 murder as undertaken by one of Clapham’s ‘‘Negro Servants.’’ It was, in fact, an act of violence by two Indian slaves.28 With the widespread practice of slavery continuing from the French regime to the English, and with many recent British arrivals equating slavery to African descent, the uncertainty of ethnicity is understandable. But not all slaves in and around Detroit were Indians or misinterpreted by others as Indians—James Sterling could certainly tell the difference, and this bears consideration.29

African individuals appeared in James Sterling’s correspondence almost as soon as the man moved to Detroit. A 1761 letter from Sterling to the commissary at Fort Niagara, John Collbeck, bore the mention of Jack, a laborer whom Sterling loaned to Collbeck for animal husbandry at Niagara. [End Page 298] The use of the term loan suggests that Jack was probably enslaved.30 That African labor could appear and could be used anywhere is unsurprising. Sterling’s preference for black men at portages, and his willingness to hire or loan out other enslaved individuals rather than rely solely on well-established pools of enslaved Native labor indicates the increasingly common nature of such men and women at Detroit.

Carrying dispatches, trade goods, and pelts from Michilimackinac or Detroit to Niagara and then to Schenectady required knowledge of the landscape and an ability to interact with Native individuals. As relationships among Native peoples and British officials soured in the early 1760s, particularly in the territory transferred to Britain by France, the tradition of sending Native couriers from fort to fort lost its appeal. Instead, the British favored men who could be relied on for more cultural loyalty.31 If freedom or other incentives were on the line, an enslaved black courier might be more invested in ensuring the safe delivery of goods. But his ability to do so may also have been improved if he could negotiate a fraught, indigenous frontier with more ease than an Anglo-American or British individual. Men who had no connection to the former French regime, or who could disassociate themselves from white British personnel, might have been able to advocate for themselves and be spared as targets of Native frustration.

African-descended populations living in Detroit enjoyed possibilities unique to water frontiers and this ‘‘new’’ edge of Britain’s empire, even while they lived under the pervasive shadow of chattel slavery. As was true in many of the societies with slaves that made up British North America, the work delegated to the enslaved and to their free counterparts encompassed a broad variety of tasks. Men of African descent might have found themselves undertaking the six-hundred-mile voyage from Detroit to New York on behalf of merchants. The bateaux used for transport required both skill in [End Page 299] handling and much physical strength—the latter necessity perhaps encouraging recent British arrivals to use Africans alongside traditional Native boatmen for the task.32 Even when merchants like Sterling relied on newly arrived enslaved Africans who were ignorant of the region, they benefited from this labor. The slaves’ lack of geographic knowledge would accordingly make them more reliant on white companions and taskmasters and limit their possibilities for escape. This dependency on an overseer’s information could make a talented African rower’s labor more attractive than that of long-resident panis, of free local Indians, or even of local wage-earning white men.

Though the river trade and boats building Detroit’s wealth carried many legitimate cargos, Detroit merchants like Sterling also followed the borderlands predilection and aptitude for illicit trade. This ‘‘gray market’’ increased the risk in boat transports and added pressure to merchants seeking trustworthy bateaumen. Chapman Abraham, one of Sterling’s regular contacts, smuggled liquor and other goods and feared the loss of such tricky cargoes to local indigenous residents.33 At least one source attributed James Clapham’s death to Indians drunk on rum inciting Clapham’s panis to violence. Thus, merchants had to weigh geographic knowledge, linguistic fluency, and cultural familiarity against risk to cargo and, more important, their own lives. Here again enslaved Africans offset some of these perils. Their labor enabled the safe delivery of cargo and could be secured by violence or exchanged for monetary bonuses or even for eventual freedom. During a voyage, these servants could tend to other travelers, merchants, and hunters. Such domestic duties both enhanced creature comforts for slaveholders and reaffirmed the social status of merchant slaveholders.

Some individuals like Sterling preferred African laborers for still other reasons as well. When Sterling wrote to his partner Duncan regarding the peltry shipment from Michilimackinac in 1765, he addressed the issues of trust and performance that concerned any tradesman. Sterling asserted his [End Page 300] preference to rely on ‘‘Negros,’’ rather than on ‘‘that dread Creature Morrison’’ in the conduct of this trade, because ‘‘I don’t look upon him [Morrison] equal to one of the Negroes.’’34 The driving factor in Sterling’s letter was not a laborer’s expendability or cost—reliability was the key. Roles occupied by other enslaved Africans at Detroit suggest that a need for competence motivated Sterling in his promotion of enslaved ‘‘Negros’’ over Morrison. Sterling’s contemporary and a notable Detroit slaveholder, Joseph Campeau, highly prized his enslaved clerk Mullett because in this mercantile world Mullett showed his ‘‘shrewdness in business matters’’ and thus provided Campeau a competitive edge.35

The negative comparison of the white Morrison to laborers who were raced, regardless of whether they were actually black or Indian, highlights Sterling’s judgment. In marking these African individuals with such preferential terms, Sterling showed the complexities of the categories of black and white, and even Indian, at Detroit. It is possible that Sterling’s decision to privilege black labor over white (or over panis slaves) was a method of shaming Morrison. Under the French regime, many officials exploited racial tensions to maintain colonial order. For instance, Louisiana’s official hangman in the 1730s was Louis Congo. Despite being an enslaved African, Congo executed both convicted blacks and whites. The message the colonial government expressed through Congo and through reversals of racial hierarchies was one of state dominance. These controlled moments and inversions attested to the strength of the governor’s order, extending royal dominion over all residents.36 Detroit’s merchant and governing elites continued using such strategies to greater or lesser effect. In 1776 Lieutenant Governor [End Page 301] Henry Hamilton and Justice of the Peace Philip Dejean, Hamilton’s protégé, ordered the executions of Ann Wyley, an enslaved black woman, and the habitant Jean-Baptiste Contencineau. The pair had conspired to rob and burn the storehouses of the trade firm Abbot and Finchly. After their conviction, though, Captain Richard Beringer Lernoult, Detroit’s post commander, refused to serve as hangman, forcing Dejean and Hamilton to find another executioner. Dejean offered to commute Wyley’s sentence if she would serve in this capacity; Wyley obliged but her lack of experience made a terrible spectacle of Contencineau’s death, and Dejean eventually hung her as well. The Wyley case thus continued the long tradition begun under the French regime of subordinating race in the name of imperial power, even after this territory came under nominal British control.37

Negotiating relationships with African individuals over whom Sterling tried to claim dominion was a complicated process. If his preferential use of boatmen of color over a white man attested to Sterling’s pragmatism (as least as far as business interests were concerned), at other times Sterling behaved like a typical Atlantic slaveholder. When bonded laborers attempted to steal themselves, Sterling moved swiftly to reclaim them. ‘‘I found my Negro man soon after I wrote you,’’ Sterling noted in a 1762 letter to Ensign J. Schlösser, an officer in the Detroit-Niagara region. Having ‘‘since which time . . . taken proper Means to secure him,’’ Sterling thanked Schlosser for his aid in this mans’ recapture.38 That he required ‘‘Means to secure him’’ could have meant shackles, marking, or further measures, such as paying someone a reward for the man’s return, and it indicates that this slave had not returned willingly.

The timing of this enslaved man’s disappearance, 1762, indicates that rising tensions and British reversals in their war with the Anishinaabeg could have facilitated this enslaved man’s flight. If the man was indeed of African descent and a recent arrival in Detroit and the Upper Country, his lack of knowledge of indigenous languages and limited familiarity with local waterways would have hampered his escape. Yet Sterling conspicuously [End Page 302] relied on imperial authorities to search for the man, rather than the Native agents that William Johnson and many other Anglo-Americans across the colonies employed at other times for the purposes of finding runaways. This opens the possibility that Sterling’s enslaved man had made for an Indian village.

What could this fugitive hope for in Indian Country? When the literate, ‘‘short, thick, and sensible’’ Pompey stole a horse from his master Ephraim Nichols in Connecticut, he headed west. Nichols’s neighbor sought aid from William Johnson, his acquaintance and a man with the necessary connections. Could Johnson arrange for Indians to assist in recapturing Pompey? By this point, the fugitive had renamed himself ‘‘Sam’’ and was reputed to be ‘‘some time ago at Fort Augusta with a party of Indians.’’39 It seems Pompey/Sam successfully evaded recapture, endorsing both his convincing reinvention of self and the utility of indigenous aid from the ‘‘party of Indians.’’40 Sterling’s fugitive slave, starting out far closer to Native territory, may have reasoned he had an even better chance for success, melting away into sovereign Native space during a tide of nativism and imperial discontent.

In 1764, in the midst of the violence and upheaval wrought by Pontiac and other Anishinaabeg, William Johnson conveyed a distressing report regarding yet another ‘‘Negroe’’ to Major General Thomas Gage. Sam Tony, having ‘‘acquired much influence’’ among Indians living at Otseningo, apparently had been circulating stories about the British—‘‘that we designed to sett them by the Ears, & afterwards cut them off.’’ Johnson took particular care to note that Sam Tony was ‘‘A Negroe . . . who ran away from Maryland upward of twenty years ago, & has resided ever since amongst the Indians.’’41 If Johnson’s chronology was accurate, Sam Tony [End Page 303] had taken advantage of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48) to emancipate himself. During wartime, places bordering British and French claims carried particular risks. As New France’s governor explained to his superior, ‘‘every negro being a slave wherever he be’’; French officers used this to justify their retention of these captives, in continued bondage of course, during and after wars.42 Tony fled to where the application of European authority was weakest—spaces where, as Kathleen DuVal notes, Indian ‘‘jurisdiction prevailed.’’43 Given indigenous participation in the slave trade, Indians’ roles as slave catchers, and the ambivalence many Indians held toward any representatives of settler colonialism, Native America was only a slightly less risky environment for freedom. Still, for Sam Tony, these risks outweighed the known violence of plantation life.

With Native rage against British imperial presumptions at new heights, Tony, like Sterling’s fugitive slave in 1762, posed a particularly acute threat to imperial plans. Having escaped from Maryland, Tony would have seen the rigid racial politics of British plantation slavery and transmitted his perspective on this to Indians. The statement about cutting off British ears was not simply a provocative turn of phrase. It spoke directly to the brutal punitive regime enforced on many plantations, like those of William Byrd. In the terrifying enforcement of plantation obedience, this mutilation was generally a practice reserved for repeated attempts at running away. Part of what made Tony so disturbing and worthy of Johnson’s and Gage’s concerns was how he continued a pattern that British authorities had been unable to eradicate: African fugitives taking advantage of war’s chaos to flee west, south, or north into Native America. If they survived and settled in Indian communities, they could potentially circulate their negative knowledge of former slaveholders and other colonists to this new audience. Tony’s exhortations are similar to statements made by enslaved African fugitives in [End Page 304] South Carolina to Cherokees. These fugitives told the Cherokees that ‘‘the white People was coming to destroy them all.’’44 The swift action Johnson recommended against Tony attests to the nervousness British subjects had about Indian and enslaved African interaction as well as to the application of imperial justice. British authorities may also have feared Tony’s influence on the Africans who were being moved by Britons and Anglo-Americans into the new edges of the empire to cultivate crops and provide labor. Access to the discourse of enslaved and free people of color offered a powerful resource for Indians in the Susquehanna, Great Lakes, and Ohio regions that mirrored Johnson’s own webs of information. That made Tony valuable to his host community and dangerous to the empire.

British subjects living near or in the New York and Great Lakes borderlands feared exactly the conspiracy that Tony’s narrative spoke to: the paranoia in every European colony regarding Indian-African rebellion. Colonial officials, whether French or British, had long feared that Native communities would make common cause with enslaved Africans and vice versa, in spite of economic and cultural divides and the racial rhetoric promoted by Euro-Americans. Anxious whites worried that Indians would aid African fugitives to collectively plot the downfall of European imperial projects. These terrifying associations rarely manifested themselves as colonial officials imagined they would, although rumors exploiting colonists’ fears abounded. The erroneous account of John Claphams’s 1762 demise in the Great Lakes region had featured ‘‘Africans with tomahawks’’ and so seemingly confirmed these concerns.45 The reality that African-Indian relationships tended to form in ad hoc, individual ways never dispelled the power of these rumors.46 [End Page 305]

British administrators’ fears of African-Indian alliances in the Old Northwest matched planters’ fears in the Caribbean of maroon-enslaved collusion, which would encourage grand marronage. Tony’s experience showed, however, that not every Native community was receptive to Tony’s warnings, or to Tony himself—much like maroons after the 1740s. In the end, Indians reported on Tony’s speech and whereabouts and handed him over to British authorities. Johnson activated his allies, perhaps among nearby Senecas, and had the former slave ‘‘brought down Prisoner by the Indians to me.’’ Tony’s return parallels the situation in the British Caribbean after the Maroon Wars ended, when maroons agreed to serve as slave catchers in exchange for the independence of their communities. Shortly after repossessing Tony, Johnson placed him under guard, ‘‘to be forwarded to New York’’ for Gage’s disposal.47 Thomas Gage, with the approval of all his correspondents, ultimately decided ‘‘to send down the Negro and the Indian [imprisoned with him at Albany] and I think it best to send both off to the West Indies,’’ rather than the Chesapeake, in the return to lifelong bondage.48 Gage’s choice, made with Johnson’s approbation, continued policies from seventeenth-century New England and the southern colonies, and even New France. The West Indies, by virtue of their appalling mortality rates, made suitable deterrents by which to control enslaved and enemy bodies. Native peoples, such as Wampanoags and Narragansetts, found themselves actively transported out of North America to prevent their disruption of British imperial goals; difficult slaves of African and Native descent, too, were sold away to the islands.49

Sam Tony chose to make himself conspicuous in his critiques of British rule because, after two decades cohabiting with and perhaps even being adopted by Indians, he felt relatively safe. Enslaved blacks in the 1760s Upper Country could, as Tony had, take advantage of the troubled times to flee. Unlike Tony, none experienced the sense of security derived from long-term interactions with Indians, which had allowed Tony to make his prominent critiques of British America. The publicity of Tony’s capture and fate [End Page 306] served as a cautionary tale for runaways considering flight into Native America.

People of African descent, as it turned out, did not need to be resident among Indians like Sam Tony to cause complications for British authorities. Two years after the successful management of the Sam Tony threat to British control, another one of James Sterling’s slaves, described as an ‘‘English Negro,’’ allegedly murdered two Potawatomi women in May 1766 at Fort Saint Joseph, southwest of Detroit. The flashpoint for the crime concerned the man’s attempting to rape a Potawatomi woman; her resistance prompted her murder. Punctuating his words with a wampum belt, William Johnson promised to satisfy Potawatomi demands for revenge and restitution, stating that this African individual would ‘‘meet with the punishment adequate to the crime and your people may be present to see it inflicted.’’ The delicate and recent restoration of British-Potawatomi relations mattered more than due process for a slave. With ‘‘no kinship ties and no linguistic skills that would have made him valuable to either the English or to the Potawatomis,’’ this enslaved man had few options for reinvention or successful manumission.50

No one asked the man why he had committed the crime, but a few possibilities could explain his actions. With Detroit’s established and widespread economy of Indian slavery, which involved a high degree of sexual violence toward panis women, this ‘‘English Negro’’ may have assumed the free Potawatomi woman was, instead, a slave. Sterling certainly owned Native women. Perhaps this man had had a relationship with one of them, consensual or not.51 The assault of the two Potawatomi women may have been a [End Page 307] conscious decision designed to elevate his status of enslavement by subjugation of theirs, through rape and ultimately murder.52 Subordinated in the Sterling-Cuillerier household, this man could also have been acting out against his perceived enslavement by Indians, rather than Anglo-Americans, given Mrs. James Sterling’s connections through her mother’s kin networks to the Native (Odawa) community.

‘‘Mr. Sterling’s Negro’’ did leave one clue to his motivation in a mediated archival record. Before being hanged for the ‘‘unparalleled murder committed on two Squaws,’’ the accused allegedly declared that ‘‘he thought it a meritorious act to kill Heathens whenever they were found.’’ Whether this was a clearing of his conscience or an attempt to receive a last-minute reprieve or a swifter carriage of justice, the man expressed what he thought would appeal to the British audience at the execution. Moreover, his words suggested that being ‘‘Heathen,’’ a euphemism his audience would hear as ‘‘Indian,’’ was as indelible a condition as being black. The condemned man aptly observed British attitudes; William Johnson lamented to the Lords of Trade and Plantation that the slave’s statement expressed ‘‘the opinion of all the common people.’’ Understandably, settler colonists and Native residents disagreed over the severity of this crime. Johnson hoped that ‘‘his death may have some good effect’’ and appease Indian anger; he acknowledged that real problems for the empire had been caused by the actions of ‘‘Mr. Sterling’s Negro.’’53

And anger there was because justice was so long in coming. While meeting with Odawas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Wyandots, William Johnson explained, ‘‘as to the murder committed lately by a negro on two of your women at Detroit, you know he is of a different Colour & disposition from us, so that his action can not be attributed to the English.’’54 But if the crime was justified in the mind of the accused as an act of a civilized man versus heathens, and it reflected widely held colonial prejudices, then there was no difference in ‘‘disposition.’’ At best, Johnson and his agents hoped to use this event to trouble any future associations between Indians and Africans.

When the Anglo-Irish merchant and negotiator George Croghan journeyed west to Detroit, he encountered some Delaware ‘‘Chiefs and Warriors’’ who spoke plainly to him on this matter. ‘‘The Nations over the Lakes were making a great complaint to their allies,’’ Delawares said sharply to Croghan, ‘‘Every little Crime which any of their People committed in their [End Page 308] drink—was taken great Notice of by the English, and their People sent Prisoners to be hanged—when the English at the same time refused to punish their Negroes for Murdering their People before their faces.’’55 English authorities and notables regularly reinforced the association of blackness and property and insisted that profound differences existed between black and white. But, as Croghan recorded, the Delawares sided with the Anishinaabe accounts of miscarried justice, saying, ‘‘We knew this to be true.’’ They had experienced similar wrongs, recalling how ‘‘if any of our People took a Horse from Yours, you always followed us, and insisted for Satisfaction.’’ The specificity here moved beyond frustration and conflated ‘‘Negro’’ with property like chattel animals—just the sort of racial division that would prevent Indian aid to enslaved fugitivity or uprising.56 A complaint about double standards of justice formed the core of the Delawares’ grievances, pitting Indians against Englishmen and English property. When combined with the hanged slave’s gallows speech, this exchange reveals how Indians formulated their own ‘‘racial education’’ in this region and sought a place in shaping fluctuating racial categories.57

The situation wrought by ‘‘Mr. Sterling’s Negro’’—a man who held no obvious power (unlike the Sun Fish), no information (unlike Sam Tony), no Native kinship (unlike Louis Cook)—showed how the enslaved could profoundly complicate British affairs with multiple Native communities. Croghan ‘‘used every Argument in my Power to convince them, That every step was in the Power of the General, and Superintendant . . . to bring such People as committed Offences in Indian Country to Justice.’’ The Delawares acidly replied, ‘‘We Thought You had Laws for that Purpose.’’58 The ramifications of the enslaved man’s actions echoed more strongly near Detroit. ‘‘If we had done them Justice for the Murder of the Two Squaws,’’ Thomas Gage wearily noted when weighing how to respond to a few Ojibwa individuals killing a British lieutenant’s servant and wounding the lieutenant’s wife, ‘‘we might with a better grace insist upon the Indians being also brought to Justice.’’59

‘‘Sterling’s Negro’’ acted for his own benefit in 1766. That same decade, [End Page 309] the enslaved Pompée also engaged violently with an Indian—this time to defend the life of a Detroit habitant. When an Indian ‘‘of the Sauteuse [Ojibwa] nation’’ attacked ‘‘Antony, docteur en médecine,’’ Pompée intervened to save his master. Pompée sustained a fatal knife wound and was buried in the Sainte Anne de Détroit cemetery on January 26, 1766.60 Did Pompée hope that his valiant act might secure him manumission? His death did free him from bondage. Perhaps he viewed métis Indian residents—and their nearby kin—as accessories in a growing slave trade, which made them more despicable in his eyes than even a slaveholder. Pompée died at age forty—if he had served Antony for years, did familiarity prompt his defense? Pompée and Sterling’s ‘‘English Negro’’ experienced slavery under two different empires that used different slave codes. In both these cases, each man clearly saw Native individuals, not Euro-Americans, as the key objects and purveyors of violence.

Men were not the only individuals forging a new world that was based on the lucrative trade and transportation at the posts of the Great Lakes. Angélique Cuillerier dit Beaubien, a Detroit native, played a key role in her husband James Sterling’s success—and in the lives of the enslaved of the city. By 1765 Angélique was running a household; she had been familiarized ‘‘to trade from her infancy, & is generally allowed to be the best Interpreter of the different Indn Languages at this place.’’ She was thus able to aid her husband’s business, which placed her in a position to direct Indian and African slaves. Moreover, she was a woman of status with kinship ties to the Odawas, to the British, and, as a niece of Fort Detroit’s last French commander, François-Marie Picoté de Belestre, to the old imperial elite. She had grown up with unquestioned slavery, which befitted a daughter of Antoine Cuillerier, one of Detroit’s leading slaveholders. Her marriage dowry was a staggering one thousand pounds worth of ‘‘Houses, Money, & Peltry’’ and most certainly included human chattel, thereby delighting her British husband.61 Within months of the wedding, Angélique added to her considerable investments and acquired a new enslaved woman. [End Page 310]

In and of itself, such a woman in Angélique’s home was not unusual. Rough parity existed in numbers between male and female enslaved populations in the 1760s. By the 1780s, when over one-quarter of Detroit’s households were slaveholding, the balance tilted more in favor of female slaves. What makes this woman purchased by Angélique so particular was her description as a ‘‘Negro Wench.’’ Writing to his partner Duncan, who appeared to have sent this woman, Sterling reported, ‘‘Mrs Sterling intends keeping [her] . . . for her own use, [and] desires that you will be pleased to pay yourself for her out of the Price of the Peltry & Credit her with the Remainder.’’ That Sterling called this woman a wench illuminated her position as a domestic who would appropriately relieve his wife of tasks not suited to white women and could, perhaps, mark her as being of specifically African descent.62

The manner by which Angélique appropriated this woman serves as a reminder that this habitante maintained her own trade routes. Sterling passed along his wife’s pleasure at having a new slave ‘‘for her own use’’ but pointed out that Duncan was to credit Angélique and not himself ‘‘with the Remainder’’ of this nameless woman’s price. Indian slavery was ubiquitous and pervasive in Indian and French America—surely it would have been easier for Angélique to acquire panis servants. Her decision to take on this African woman ‘‘for her own use’’ suggests an ability to display her wealth through conspicuous consumption and to convey a status that perhaps suited new British norms in Detroit better than previous French ones (where status delineations could easily be upheld with a house full of Native slaves).63 If the Sterlings sought to emulate elite British households, Madame Sterling’s domestics needed to be of African descent. Angélique’s choices reveal a heightened understanding of Africans as luxury ‘‘goods’’ for both British and French (and Franco-Indian) consumers at Detroit.64 [End Page 311]

Finally, owning a domestic ‘‘wench,’’ trained to cook, wash, make soap, produce dairy products, and even sew, dress hair, and, importantly, tend infants, may also have allowed Angélique to divest herself of a great many household duties. The same year this African or African American woman arrived, Angélique bore a son, named after his father, James Sterling. Angélique may well have wanted to return to her trade work—something as simple as focusing more on her mercantile interests or allowing her more time to serve as her husband’s primary interpreter—that she could not undertake otherwise while running a household and fulfilling a mother’s duties.65

The record of a prominent habitante like Angélique Sterling affords our access to the rarely seen lives of enslaved African women of this region. Infants and women of African descent also appear as brief entries in the burial registries of Sainte Anne de Détroit and L’Assomption-de-la-Pointe-de-Montréal-du-Détroit in the 1760s, 1770s, and 1780s. Surprisingly, more are named than not—Babet, Thérése, Marion, Susanne, Archange— in comparison to the anonymous ‘‘female mulatto slave belonging to Gervais’’ and ‘‘A young Negro [female], belonging to Grant, commandant de la [End Page 312] marine.’’ As an officer in the Royal Navy, Alexander Grant circulated among Detroit’s elite. Like the Sterlings, he cemented his status through slaveholding. Had he acquired this slave at Detroit upon his arrival? Had she converted or had she been baptized by previous French owners, which allowed her to be buried in a Roman Catholic churchyard? At the very least, Grant’s rising political and economic status and his ability to translate this to both French and British residents rested on the bondage of a black woman.66

‘‘Marie,’’ like Angélique Sterling and her enslaved woman, leaves further intriguing clues about African women’s lives in Detroit. Marie died a ‘‘négresse libre’’ at age seventy-two and was interred on September 21, 1786, ‘‘buried in cemetery in presence of Monforton, Joseph Reaume, Laderoute, and others.’’ The register does not explicitly refer to Marie’s being an affranchie; it is possible that this elderly woman had been enslaved, perhaps migrating with her owners to the Great Lakes from the Illinois Country.67 She may have been sold to an ambitious habitante like Angélique Sterling, as Detroit boomed in the 1760s. Or perhaps she had always been a free resident of the pays d’en haut. Marie’s unusual distinction goes beyond having been the sole person of African descent, male or female, designated as a ‘‘free Negro’’ in the burial registries of Sainte Anne and L’Assomption. At least four habitants paid their final respects to Marie, in contrast to attendance at the majority of black and white burials. This tantalizing but [End Page 313] incomplete glimpse points to Africans finally beginning to develop independent networks as the eighteenth century drew to a close.68

More elusive but not impossible to find are the African women who experienced captivity beyond the urban areas. A second ‘‘Negro wench’’ materializes in these archives, this time in relationship to an English captive of Native peoples. Her story provides a fragmentary glance at different possibilities for enslaved African women in the Great Lakes borderlands. James Dixon, a sawyer, was thrust into Native (possibly Nipissing) trade networks in 1756 and spent almost two years as a captive after he was captured at Oswego and given to the Native community at Canasadaga as a gift or in a trade exchange. While in this settlement, Dixon claimed he ‘‘was ill used because he attempted to make his escape, that by means of Negro wench that was there.’’ Whether this same woman aided him in his second, successful flight to Fort Stanwix and if she received punishment for her aid to Dixon remain unknown.69 Her decision to abet the flight of this man opens myriad questions: was this an act of insubordination against those who claimed to own her? Some Native communities in the Northeast practiced chattel slavery in the mid- and late eighteenth century. It is equally possible that she was a free woman who feared that British searches for Dixon would reveal her whereabouts and return her to enslavement. After assuming command of Britain’s American armies, Jeffery Amherst demanded the return of all black and Indian servants and slaves as well as military prisoners as a matter of policy—one that might have frightened this anonymous African resident of a Haudenosaunee community.70 Had she married into this community, like [End Page 314] the Sun Fish or Mary Jemison did among the Senecas? Or had she had been forced into a sexual liaison that produced children? Dixon offered neither her name nor her fate for helping him, though he may well have known both.

There is an extant autobiography of an African woman amid Haudenosaunee slaveholders, that of Sophia Pooley, who, in her nineties, recounted her story to an American abolitionist. Pooley was purchased by Joseph Brant at Niagara in 1778 and sold again just before his death, in 1807, and her narrative fleshes out some contours of how this earlier ‘‘Negro wench’’ may have lived. ‘‘I used to talk Indian better than I could talk English,’’ Pooley reminisced, though, ‘‘there are none to talk it with now.’’ Her language skill was acquired while in captivity—Pooley had been born to enslaved Africans at Fishkill, New York. She described at length how she aided the Brant family in hunting and dressing deer, and recalled, surprisingly, ‘‘I had no care to get my freedom.’’ Yet Brant and his third wife disagreed over Pooley’s physical treatment. Pooley noted that ‘‘my mistress’’ was ‘‘a pretty squaw; her father was an English colonel,’’ but she was also ‘‘a barbarous creature,’’ delivering Pooley two serious facial wounds with a hatchet and a knife. Pooley discussed Brant’s chastising his wife, ‘‘you know I adopted her as one of the family and now, you are trying to put all the work on her.’’71 Brant’s wife, like some bicultural Indians, could have reflected English prejudices learned from her father and used Pooley’s body to distinguish her own superior racial status as a wife and free woman. Regardless of Brant’s statement about ‘‘adoption’’ and Pooley’s kind treatment by his daughters and sons, her condition of slavery remained irrevocable.

Dixon’s unnamed accomplice and Pooley give voices to the women inhabiting this world, despite their being largely unrepresented in archival records. The unnamed individual who came to the aid of Dixon, a fellow captive, showed her determination to survive and to act according to her [End Page 315] free will, whatever the cost. The unhappiness of these individuals, as opposed to black fugitives who found asylum among Native communities, evidences what profound loneliness and isolation also marked the black captive experience in the western borderlands in this period. The Brants owned two enslaved African men, but Sophia Pooley described herself as ‘‘the first colored girl brought into Canada,’’ evincing her solitary experience. Equally striking is Pooley’s self-description as ‘‘colored’’ in a narrative that addressed at length how ‘‘the old Indian Brant, the king’’ slipped back and forth between British and Mohawk dress and lifestyle.72

‘‘a place that they expected would suit them much better’’

To run away from Detroit in 1761, 1762, even 1766 would have meant fleeing into Indian territory and courting the risk of death, or turning back east and facing the specter of plantations. After outright war between Indians and colonists subsided and as the enslaved population continued to grow, staying in Detroit meant risking an entire life in bondage. Detroit began as a center of indigenous slavery and continental slave trade routes. Detroit in the 1780s and 1790s hosted ever more auctions of African individuals. Increasing Anglo-American migration to Detroit brought more enslaved individuals of African descent to the Upper Country, replacing the deep tradition of Native labor and extending racial prejudices and work regimes. By 1779, 138 slaves lived at Detroit (an increase over 1773’s 85 individuals). A year later, another census enumerated 175 men and women in bondage.73 Many of these men, women, and children entered Detroit forcibly as captives of Indian raids on Anglo-American settlements in Virginia and Kentucky.74 The angry widow Agnes La Force exemplified a white victim in this new pattern. She petitioned Frederick Haldimand for return [End Page 316] of her human property—thirteen individuals taken by a ‘‘party of soldiers and Indians of His Majesty . . . and carried to Detroit where on their arrival said negro slaves were sold,’’ without Madame La Force’s consent. Only compensation or return of these individuals would satisfy La Force.75

Detroit residents ignored the antislavery provisions of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance regarding new sales, and many enjoyed the grandfather protections of Article 6, which allowed them to retain their current slaves. Even though the 1793 Canadian abolition decree and Michigan Territory’s organization in 1796 further restricted bondage, Canada’s largest slaveholder in 1799 was Matthew Elliot, a member of the British Indian Department at Detroit who reputedly owned sixty individuals or more.76 Elliot’s prominent position at the Indian Department spoke to the continued significance of Native communities, despite accelerated Euro-American settlement. Elliot’s role as a slaveholder exposed the ineffectiveness of enforcing antislavery provisions in the region and the continued profits to be made on bonded workers.

Increased white residency and ever more violent conflict between settler colonists and indigenous peoples changed the opportunities for those of African descent. The realm of possible flight and fruitful interactions moved ever farther west as the eighteenth century drew to a close and imperial tension grew to include the rise of an aggressive new player—the United States. Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable, ‘‘a handsome negro, well educated (and settled at Eschecagou) but much in the French interest,’’ could still rely on courteous treatment by British officers while imprisoned at Fort Michilimackinac. Besides his Native wife, Catherine, and daughter, Susanne, he counted in the region ‘‘many friends, who give him good character’’—friends who were presumably British and French, Indian, and free people of color.77 The ex-slaves who had found freedom and elected to shelter Mary Jemison in 1778 ‘‘continued on my flats two or three years after this, and then left them for a place that they expected would suit them much better.’’78 This movement addressed ever-growing white encroachment. It also exposed an increased fear in the fugitives’ proximity to a community of refugee Senecas, indicated by the vigilance Jemison had witnessed [End Page 317] while living with them. Whatever had made Gardow Flats attractive had vanished by the early 1780s.

Africans gave attention to the dynamics around them: the interactions of Europeans and Indians, the relationships among Indian nations, the tensions between the divided mastery of slaveholders, and the ways in which assumptions about race shaped expectations on all sides. The Upper Country thrust new African arrivals into a world in which no natural networks existed for them, and where blackness translated increasingly as value only. To counter this, the enslaved brought an acute awareness to their surroundings, and to the political and social situations in which they found themselves, casting about with these skills to better enable their survival. For those who achieved freedom in the northwest borderlands, or among indigenous host societies, the decision to continue their lives in this territory made a powerful statement about where Africans felt comfortable and where they determined their homes to be.

British authorities defused tensions of the 1760s somewhat by shifting the burden of slavery increasingly onto African bodies from Indian ones. The coexistence of both systems was no longer needed. The 1760s and 1770s allowed habitants and new colonizers to forge novel, productive networks that were based on co-opted labors. Despite the closure of this particularly fluid moment, Native residents of the Upper Country never made unilateral judgments regarding black bodies. Indigenous residents, like the Africans of the 1760s, troubled the racial norms Euro-Americans attempted to impose through chattel slavery and settler colonialism. Angry at ‘‘Americans planting corn so far in their country,’’ Odawas and Potawatomis stated in an 1815 speech to representatives of the United States that they would resist invasion and had ‘‘the British, French, Dutch and Negroes at their backs to assist them.’’ The ambiguity and malleable nature of African-Indian relationships, for example in Detroit, persisted and would continue to do so in the nineteenth century.79 There, a militia largely made up of exslaves came into being by 1806, indicating that future transitions from slavery to freedom would take place in the nineteenth century.80 [End Page 318]

Christian Ayne Crouch
Bard College

An earlier version of this essay appeared at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies’ conference ‘‘The War Called Pontiac’s, 1762-2013,’’ Fort Ticonderoga’s 2015 War College of the Seven Years’ War, and the Columbia University ‘‘Beyond France’’ seminar. I wish to thank all the participants at the venues for their excellent suggestions, whch improved this essay. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Greg Childs, Miller Crouch, Tabetha Ewing, Karen Marrero, James Merrell, Jon Parmenter, Jenny Shaw, John Smolenski, Patrick Spero, and an anonymous reader for Early American Studies who offered suggestions, read draft versions, and provided valuable feedback.

Footnotes

1. James Sterling to John Duncan, Esq., Detroit, August 20, 1765, James Sterling letterbook (hereafter cited as Sterling letterbook), William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 150.

2. Karen Marrero, ‘‘On the Edge of the West: The Roots and Routes of Detroit’s Urban Eighteenth Century,’’ in Jay Gitlin, Barbara Berglund, and Adam Arenson, eds., Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 70, 73–74, 76. A census of 1773 reflecting similar numbers is found in Historical Collections: Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society (hereafter cited as MHC) (Lansing, Mich.: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford, 1877–1929), 9:649.

3. Marrero, ‘‘On the Edge of the West,’’ 62, 70, 74, 81–83; Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 276–84. The coureurs de ville provided an urban counterpart to the voyageurs engaged in the lucrative fur trade and dominated resources and control of imperial policy. At Detroit, the most successful (and wealthiest) families of coureurs de ville held roots in indigenous communities as well as in French bloodlines.

4. Colin Calloway, The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 125–27, 129; Gregory Evans Dowd, War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 61, 131. Catherine Cangany discusses the use and production of moccasins as a demonstration of Native and French continuities and hybridized material cultures. See Cangany, ‘‘Fashioning Moccasins: Detroit, the Manufacturing Frontier, and the Empire of Consumption, 1701– 1835,’’ William and Mary Quarterly 69, no. 2 (2012): 265–304.

5. About 15 percent of all new slaves in New France in the 1750s were African or African American, which attests to the increasing capture and sale of black individuals in New France. See Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, 343–44. Numbers increased significantly, by contrast, in the Illinois Country. Carl Ekberg, Robert Morrissey, Cécile Vidal, and Sophie White have all noted that African individuals appeared regularly in the records of the Illinois Country. Illinois Country censuses of 1726, 1737, 1752, and 1767 show increases in the population of African descent, almost wholly enslaved, that consistently formed around 30 percent of the population. Within the enslaved population of the Illinois Country, 60 percent of slaves were of African descent. For census data see Carl Ekberg, French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), chap. 3, and Robert Morrissey, Empire by Collaboration: Indians, Colonists, and Governments in Colonial Illinois Country (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 145–46. See also Sophie White, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 107, 229; Cécile Vidal, ‘‘Africains et Européens au Pays des Illinois durant la période française (1699–1765),’’ French Colonial History 3 (2003): 51–68. On slavery in the pays d’en haut, see Afua Cooper, The Hanging of Angélique: the Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 66, 74; Jorge Castellanos, ‘‘Black Slavery in Detroit,’’ in Wilma Wood Henrickson, ed., Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 85.

6. For the complete Articles of Capitulation, see Edmund B. O’Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York (hereafter cited as DCNY), 15 vols. (Albany: Weed Parsons, 1853–87), 10:1118.

7. Marquis de Vaudreuil to Louis-Liénard de Beaujeu de Villemonde, Commander at Michilimackinac, Montreal, September 9, 1760 [copy], Thomas Gage Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, American Series (hereafter cited as Gage Papers, AS), vol. 6, 1760, April–December, 1–1v., 74.

8. Afua Cooper argues that 1,500 black slaves arrived in Canada after the British conquest of 1760; The Hanging of Angélique, 81. Cooper, however, does not distinguish where such populations went.

9. For examples of these delineations, see Dowd, War under Heaven; Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance; Gregory J. Wigmore, ‘‘Before the Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom in the Canadian-American Borderland,’’ Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (2011): 437–54, and Samantha Seeley, ‘‘Freedom, Race, and Forced Migration in the Early American Republic’’ (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 2014).

10. Marrero, ‘‘On the Edge of the West,’’ 84.

11. Among the earliest works treating slavery in New England and New France are Lorenzo Greene’s The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620–1776 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942) and Marcel Trudel’s L’esclavage au Canada français: Histoire et conditions d’esclavage (Québec: Presses Universitaires Laval, 1960). Works discussing African and Indian exchange in the northern borderlands include William Hart, ‘‘Black ‘Go-Betweens’ and the Mutability of ‘Race,’ Status, and Identity on New York’s Pre-Revolutionary Frontier,’’ in Andrew R. L. Cayton and Frederika J. Teute, eds., Contact Points: American Frontiers from the Mohawk Valley to the Mississippi, 1750–1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 88–113, and Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance. On slavery, Indian or African, in New England and Canada, see Wendy Anne Warren, ‘‘‘The Cause of Her Grief ’: the Rape of a Slave in Early New England,’’ Journal of American History 93, no. 4 (2007): 1031–49, and Warren, New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (New York: Liveright, 2016); Christine DeLucia, ‘‘The Memory Frontier: Uncommon Pursuits of Past and Place in the Northeast after King Philip’s War,’’ Journal of American History 98, no. 4 (2012): 975–97; John Wood Sweet, Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730–1830 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003); Wigmore, ‘‘Before the Railroad’’; Cooper, The Hanging of Angélique.

12. James Merrell, ‘‘The Racial Education of the Catawba Indians,’’ Journal of Southern History 50, no. 3 (1984): 364, 373. For modern-day works on southeastern slavery and African-Indian relationships, see, for instance, Christina Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010); Claudio Saunt, A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Tiya Miles, Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Barbara Krauthamer, Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013). See also James Merrell, The Indians’ New World: The Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), and James Brooks, ed., Confounding the Color Line: The Indian-Black Experience in North America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002). On the specifics of southern Indian slavery, see Allan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670–1717 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), and Gallay, ed., Indian Slavery in Colonial America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009). For western border regions and the French Illinois Country, see Daniel H. Usner, Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley before 1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992); White, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians; Kathleen DuVal, ‘‘Indian Intermarriage and Métissage in Colonial Louisiana,’’ William and Mary Quarterly 65, no. 2 (2008): 267–304.

13. Merrell, ‘‘The Racial Education of the Catawba Indians,’’ 364, 373; Kathleen DuVal, The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 81. Jane Landers notes important exchanges in Florida in ‘‘Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose: A Free Black Town in Colonial Florida,’’ American Historical Review 95, no. 1 (1990): 9–30, and Black Society in Spanish Florida (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999).

14. Joyce Chaplin, ‘‘Expansion and Exceptionalism in Early American History,’’ Journal of American History 89, no. 4 (March 2003): 1448–49.

15. Hart, ‘‘Black ‘Go-Betweens’ and the Mutability of ‘Race,’ ’’ 98–99, esp. 98n20.

16. ‘‘Journal of Indian Affairs,’’ November 4–13, 1767, and John Johnston’s letter to William Johnson, Sineke [sic] Country, February 14, 1771, attest to the long-term residence of the Sun Fish among the Senecas and his role in collecting and relaying information regarding borderlands affairs, including those of Detroit. These are in The Papers of Sir William Johnson, ed. James Sullivan et al., 14 vols. (hereafter cited as WJP) (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1921–1965), 12:384, 7:1139. Hart, ‘‘Black ‘Go-Betweens’ and the Mutability of ‘Race,’ ’’ 88–90, 103–5. Matrilineal practices of the Haudenosaunees provided women, particularly clan mothers, power and authority in numerous affairs, such as captive distribution and adoption, selection of chiefs, and covering (making amends for) deaths of community members; James Taylor Carson, ‘‘Molly Brant: From Clan Mother to Loyalist Chief,’’ in Theda Perdue, ed., Sifters: Native American Women’s Lives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 49–50. See also Elizabeth Tooker, ‘‘Women in Iroquois Society,’’ in Michael K. Foster, Jack Campisi, and Marianne Mithun, eds., Extending the Rafters: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Iroquoian Studies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), 109–23. A discussion of declining authority in the nineteenth century can be found in Nancy Shoemaker, ‘‘The Rise or Fall of Iroquois Women,’’ Journal of Women’s History 2, no. 3 (1991): 39–57.

17. Barbara Graymont, ‘‘Atiatoharongwen (Thiathoharongouan),’’ in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, www.biographi.ca/en/bio/atiatoharongwen_5E.html, accessed July 14, 2014. Graymont notes that the child was rescued by Indians of Sault-Saint-Louis (Kahnawake). Richard Hill Jr., ‘‘Rotihnahon:tsi and Rotinonhson:ni: The Historic Relationship between African Americans and the Confederacy of the Six Nations,’’ in Gabrielle Tayac, ed., indiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, 2010), 101; Carl Benn, The Iroquois in the War of 1812 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 8.

18. D. Peter MacLeod, The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years’ War, new ed. (Toronto: Dundurn, 2012), 50; Alan Taylor, The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderlands of the American Revolution (New York: Knopf, 2006), 172–73; Hill, ‘‘Rotihnahon:tsi and Rotinonhson:ni,’’ 101–2, 104–5. Tochanuntie, known as the ‘‘Black Prince of the Onondaga’’ and active in the mid-eighteenth century, was reputed to have a black parent; see Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg: Theo Fenn, 1851), 4:660, and Thomas N. Ingersoll, To Intermix with Our White Brothers: Indian Mixed Bloods in the United States from Earliest Times to the Indian Removals (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005), 108. Some scholars posit that the name instead derives from the chief’s extensive upper-body tattoos, rendered in gunpowder; William Henry Egle, ed., Notes and Queries, Historical and Genealogical, Chiefly Relating to Interior Pennsylvania (Harrisburg: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1895), 281; author’s conversation with Jon Parmenter, Ticonderoga, N.Y., May 16, 2015.

19. William Scudder, The Journal of William Scudder, ed. F. J. Sypher (1794; repr., Ann Arbor: Scholar’s Facsimile Reprints, 2005), 39; Robert Eastburn, The Dangers and Sufferings of Robert Eastburn, and His Deliverance from Indian Captivity, Reprinted from the Original Edition of 1758, ed. John R. Spears (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1904), 53–54. Similar engagements took place in the Arkansas Valley: in the late eighteenth century the enslaved Luis and Cesar went to trade informally with a party of Abenakis, sent by their owner, a Spanish merchant. At least one had acquired the necessary linguistic skills while enslaved in New Orleans; DuVal, The Native Ground, 160–61.

20. Ian Steele points out that several Indians carefully selected prisoners of African descent for the specific purpose of selling them and points out that Jeffery Amherst demanded the return of all black and Indian servants and slaves as well as military prisoners. See Ian K. Steele, Betrayals: Fort William Henry and the Massacre (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 140.

21. Entry for August 9, 1757, Chevalier de la Pause, ‘‘Mémoires et Observations,’’ in Rapport de l’Archiviste de la Province de Québec, 1931–1932 (Montreal: L. Amable Proulx, 1932), 62.

22. Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country, 159; Benn, The Iroquois in the War of 1812, 55; Usner, Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy, 72–75.

23. James E. Seaver, A Narrative of Mrs. Mary Jemison, ed. June Namias (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 105–6.

24. Usner, Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy, 75; Claudio Saunt, ‘‘ ‘The English Has Now a Mind to Make Slaves of Them All’: Creeks, Seminoles, and the Problem of Slavery,’’ in Brooks, Confounding the Color Line, 54–56.

25. Cooper, The Hanging of Angélique, 84, 88. A sale advertisement in the Quebec Gazette of February 23, 1769, concerned a twenty-five-year-old enslaved domestic woman and her nine-month-old son, ‘‘formerly the property of General Murray,’’ adding that the woman ‘‘makes butter to perfection’’ (quoted in Cooper, The Hanging of Angélique, 88).

26. In a list of men discharged from service in the First Battalion of the 60th (Royal Americans) Regiment of Foot, compiled by Major Gladwin at Detroit in 1762, was Henry Wedge, ‘‘a Negro and since deserted’’; MHC 19:175. Officers like Robert Rogers also took enslaved servants on their travels. See, for instance, Colonel Henry Bouquet to General Robert Monckton, 1761, MHC 19:115. Castellanos, ‘‘Black Slavery in Detroit,’’ 85–86. The census of 1773 is found in MHC, 9:649. Arent de Peyster conducted a survey in 1782 that revealed 78 men and 101 women enslaved at Detroit; this census noted the numbers of these persons along with the slaveholding heads of household; MHC, 10:612. The population figure for the 1790s is for 1793 specifically: Clarence M. Burton, William Stocking, and Gordon K. Miller, The City of Detroit Michigan, 1701–1922 (Detroit: S. J. Clarke, 1922), 1:227.

27. ‘‘A panis slave belonging to Hobkins, formerly a captain in the infantry in the garrison of Detroit, about 15 years, 8 March 1764, buried in cemetery’’; Sainte Anne de Détroit burial registry, transcribed in Gail Moreau-DesHarnais, ‘‘People Buried from Ste. Anne’s Church (1751–1766): Part II,’’ Michigan’s Habitant Heritage (hereafter cited as MHH) 31, no. 3 (2010): 147. On Clapham see Dowd, War under Heaven, 65–67; Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, 373–76.

28. This misidentification of Clapham’s servants is quoted in Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, 371, 372–73; Jeffery Amherst to Major Gladwin, New York, May 29, 1763, and Jeffery Amherst to William Johnson, May 29, 1763, in WJP, 4:96, 98.

29. See, for instance, Major Gladwin to Jeffery Amherst, April 20, 1763,WJP, 4:96.

30. Sterling to John Collbeck, Detroit, October 27, 1761, Sterling letterbook, 19. Judith Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff discuss the associations of enslaved labor with animal husbandry, connecting this to individuals drawn from Senegambia/Sierra Leone. See Carney and Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery: African’s Botanical Legacy to the Atlantic World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009). William Hart, in ‘‘Black ‘Go-Betweens’ and the Mutability of ‘Race,’ ’’ 132–33, notes as well that the Sun Fish augmented his financial security—and that of his family—by raising and trading cattle near Tonawanda Creek after 1783.

31. Black couriers carrying news of Indian affairs appear in the records as moving in the territory around Albany in the same year that indigenous attacks on British forts escalated; ‘‘Report by Lieutenant Colonel David Vander Heyden,’’ in WJP 4:219.

32. Lieutenant Governor Hamiton to Governor Carlton regarding ‘‘a Negro, one of the Batteau’s crew,’’ MHC, 9:432. In the lower Mississippi region, small watercraft and bateaux, the forty-ton cargo vessels trafficking between New Orleans and the Illinois Country, had long been sailed by white, black, and Native crews. Merchants prized ‘‘saltwater’’ slaves from coastal hubs for their navigation skills; Indians nevertheless remained the largest and most highly skilled labor pool for navigating the Mississippi; Usner, Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy, 228–29, 233.

33. Dowd, War under Heaven, 131–32.

34. James Sterling to Porteous, Detroit, September 29, 1765, Sterling letterbook, 160.

35. Shannon Lee Dawdy, ‘‘The Burden of Louis Congo and the Evolution of Savagery in Colonial Louisiana,’’ in Steven Pierce and Anupama Rao, eds., Discipline and the Body: Correction, Corporeality, Colonialism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 61–90; Castellanos, ‘‘Black Slavery in Detroit,’’ 87.

36. On Louis Congo, see Dawdy, ‘‘The Burden of Louis Congo.’’ Slaves engaged in corrections appeared in the Caribbean as well. Gene E. Ogle, ‘‘Slaves of Justice: Saint Domingue’s Executioners and the Production of Shame,’’ Historical Reflections 29, no. 2 (2003): 275–93. Arguments concerning state-managed inversions of race in Louisiana are in Usner, Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy, 75, 239, and Cécile Vidal, ‘‘Private and State Violence against African Slaves in Lower Lousiana during the French Period, 1699–1769,’’ in John Smolenski and Thomas J. Humphrey, eds., New World Orders: Violence, Sanction, and Authority in the Colonial Americas (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 92–111; Castellanos, ‘‘Black Slavery in Detroit,’’ 87.

37. Burton et al., The City of Detroit, 1:129; George B. Catlin, The Story of Detroit (Detroit: Detroit News, 1923), 68; Silas Farmer, The History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan (New York: Munsell & Co., 1890), 173. Detroit’s residents expressed fury over the botched hanging and, especially, over Hamilton’s investing Dejean with such power. The population deemed this an illegal application of justice, making Hamilton’s bid for legitimacy a failure and undermining his reputation in the region.

38. Sterling to Ensign J. Schlösser, Detroit, June 12, 1762, Sterling letter-book, 53.

39. Samuel Johnson to William Johnson, Stratford, Conn., July 7, 1767, in WJP, 5:586–87. One wonders about the mischief and reversed humor of the fugitive appropriating and making his own a former slaveholder’s diminutive first name. Pompey/Sam and more fugitives from Nichols appear in 1766–67 correspondence; WJP 5:573, 587, 621, 841.

40. Given William Johnson’s wide network of indigenous contacts, numerous requests for aid in retrieving runaways appear in his correspondence. Another example from this period was Edward Moseley’s letter to Johnson regarding the proceedings for the ‘‘recovery of a negro’’ who had fled to Indian Country and providing the names of several Indians who helped apprehend the individual; Moseley to Johnson, February 15, 1766, in WJP, 5:32.

41. On Johnson’s purchase of slaves, see, for instance, WJP, 4:132, 7:165, 313, 1056–57, 9:3. Correspondence regarding Tony is in Superintendent Sir William Johnson to Major General Thomas Gage, Johnson Hall, May 3, 1764, in WJP, 4:415; Thomas Gage to William Johnson, New York, May 16, 1764, in WJP, 4:422; Thomas Gage to William Johnson, New York, June 3, 1764, in WJP, 4:439; William Johnson to Thomas Gage, Johnson Hall, May 3, 1764, in Gage Papers, AS, vol. 18, 1764, 2–2v.

42. Governor Jacques-Pierre de Taffanel de la Jonquière, Marquis de la Jonquière, to Minister of Marine Antoine-Louis Rouillé, Comte de Jouy, July 1750, in DCNY, 10:210. On the targeting of people of African descent, see, for instance, Report of Boishebert on Indian Affairs, DCNY, 10:88, 172, and Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (hereafter cited as WHC) (Madison.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1855–1931), 18:57.

43. DuVal, The Native Ground, 81; Brooks, introduction to Confounding the Color Line, 8–9.

44. Quoted in Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country, 195. Claudio Saunt suggests how Africans forged affinities and could at times help Indians rebuff Euro-American attacks; Saunt, ‘‘ ‘The English Has Now a Mind to Make Slaves of Them All,’ ’’ 58.

45. Dowd, War under Heaven, 144; on Clapham, see Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, 371–72.

46. Merrell, ‘‘The Racial Education of the Catawba Indians,’’ 365–68; Usner, Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy, 58–59. Usner and others have contemplated the chilling effect the Natchez Revolt, as an instance of Indian-African collaboration, had on colonial authorities. On French fears and small-scale cooperation see, for instance, ‘‘Occurrences in Canada, 1747,’’ in DCNY, 10:131, 138. A colonial source at Montreal noted fears that ‘‘4–5 Negroes . . . taken from the English during the war’’ had deserted, adding, ‘‘Some of the Saut Indians have been sent in pursuit of them, who returned without having been able to overtake them; they are suspected of having favored the escape of these negroes. It will be proper, henceforward, to send all these foreign negroes to the Islands to be sold there.’’ A later entry in the record notes that these individuals were caught and identifies them as ‘‘4 Negroes and a Panis,’’ but it does not mention if this was accomplished with Indian aid.

47. William Johnson to Thomas Gage, Johnson Hall, May 3, 1764, Gage Papers, AS, vol. 18, 1764, 2–2v.

48. Thomas Gage to William Johnson, New York, June 3, 1764, in WJP, 4:439; Dowd, War under Heaven, 184.

49. DeLucia, ‘‘The Memory Frontier,’’ 977, 992–93; Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, 347–67; Hart, ‘‘Black ‘Go-Betweens’ and the Mutability of ‘Race,’ ’’ 104.

50. ‘‘A Congress of William Johnson with Indians including ‘Pondiac,’ 24 July 1766’’ (with Ottawas, Potawatomis, Chippewas, and Hurons), in DCNY, 7:856; Hart, ‘‘Black ‘Go-Betweens’ and the Mutability of ‘Race,’ ’’ 110.

51. Rushforth in Bonds of Alliance discusses the practice of taking slave wives, which might have influenced practices at Detroit in this era, 246, 255–59, 264. See also Susan Sleeper-Smith, Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounters in the Western Great Lakes (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), and DuVal, ‘‘Indian Intermarriage and Métissage in Colonial Louisiana’’; Tiya Miles, Ties That Bind, esp. chap. 1. For similar sexual behavior on plantations, see Jennifer Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004); Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham ‘‘African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,’’ Signs 17, no. 2 (1992): 251–74. On Sterling’s female slaves, see a 1775 receipt documenting Sterling’s sale of ‘‘a Panise slaved named Manon’’ to Sieur Labadie, in Papers and Addresses: Ontario Historical Society (Ontario: Printed by the Society, 1901), 1:52–53.

52. John Campbell to Thomas Gage, Detroit, May 10, 1766, in WJP, 5:160–61.

53. William Johnson to the Lords of Trade and Plantation, Johnson Hall, August 20, 1766, in DCNY, 7:852. The date of the letter is a transcription error and should be given as 1767.

54. ‘‘A Congress of William Johnson . . . ,’’ 856.

55. Journal of George Croghan, in WJP, 13:435.

56. Ibid.

57. On ‘‘racial education’’ see Merrell, ‘‘The Racial Education of the Catawba Indians.’’

58. Journal of George Croghan, in WJP, 13:435–36.

59. ‘‘A Congress of William Johnson . . . ,’’ 856; Thomas Gage to William Johnson, New York July 1, 1767, in WJP, 12:355–56.

60. Death register for Pompée, MHH 31, no. 4 (2010): 215.

61. Burton et al., The City of Detroit, 1:888–89; Sterling to John Duncan, Esquire, Detroit, February 26, 1765, Sterling letterbook, 130–31; Marrero, ‘‘On the Edge of the West,’’ 80. A similar mercantile marital alliance in Michilimackinac in 1754 brought together the marine cadet Charles de Langlade, son of the trader Augustin Langlade and his Odawa wife, Domitilde, and Charlotte Bourassa, daughter of another prominent merchant and slave trader. The Langlade-Bourassa marriage contract contained a comprehensive inheritance clause specifically negotiating the wealth, much of it in slaves, being brought in by both partners; WHC, 28:135–39, 428; Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, 343, 377.

62. Sterling to John Duncan, Detroit, June 25, 1765, Sterling letterbook, 145; ‘‘A Survey of the Settlement of Detroit Made by Order of Major De Peyster the 16 Day of July 1782,’’ MHC, 10:601–12. On the racialization of the term wench and the delineation of domestic hierarchies between free and enslaved women, see Jenny Shaw, ‘‘Writing a History of the Wife, the Whore, and the Wench: The Archive of Possibility in Colonial Barbados,’’ unpublished essay; Kathleen Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 9, 359, 369, 370.

63. Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, 184.

64. In the Illinois Country, Native slaves were more likely to be engaged in household labor, and black slaves, male and female, undertook agricultural labor. It seems likely that Angélique Sterling sought this woman for domestic purposes, breaking with these French patterns. On Illinois Country labor patterns, see Morrissey, Empire by Collaboration, 157. The Sainte Anne de Détroit and L’Assomption-de-la-Pointe burial registries show no burials for individuals designated négre or négresse before the 1760s. Between 1760 and 1790, however, ten individuals were buried in the Sainte Anne cemetery, and five at L’Assomption. It is unclear if these were black residents of Detroit who predated British arrival or individuals sold into Detroit from either the Illinois or Saint Lawrence regions. For registers see MHH 31, no. 1 (2010): 1–5; 31, no. 2 (2010): 95–102; 31, no. 3 (2010): 139–48; 32, no.1 (2011): 13–22; 33, no.1 (2012): 22–31. Africans served as prestige goods for both white and Native individuals. The 1769 Quebec Gazette advertisement concerning James Murray’s slave placed weight on both this woman’s skills and her association with a governor. Joseph Brant entered into discussions with Peter Russell, governor of Upper Canada, regarding Peggy Pompadour, owned by Russell. Although a sale was not reached, it is possible that Brant’s interest lay in connecting himself to Russell. Had Pompadour been sold, she could have served as a human connection, despite her race, akin to the diplomatic and Native slavery described in Bonds of Alliance. On Pompadour, see Adrienne Shadd, The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton (Toronto: Dundurn, 2010), 48–49; William Renwick Riddell, ‘‘The Slave in Canada’’ Journal of Negro History 5, no. 3 (1920): 329–31.

65. Morgan, Laboring Women, 225; Hilary Beckles, White Servitude and Black Slavery in Barbados, 1627–1715 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), 139; Marrero, ‘‘On the Edge of the West,’’ 83. On domestic duties, see Cooper, The Hanging of Angélique, 88, 158. James Sterling Jr. survived infancy and childhood and certainly increased Angélique’s work demands. Burton et al., City of Detroit, 1:705.

66. ‘‘Babet’’ is not explicitly listed as black, but the name appears almost exclusively among enslaved African women. For others named ‘‘Babet/Babette,’’ see White, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians, 169, 196, or Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance, 354. Burials registers, Sainte Anne (Babet, two anonymous, Marion, Archange), MHH 31, no. 3 (2010): 148; MHH 32, no. 1 (2011): 16, 20, 21. Burial registers, L’Assomption (Susanne, Thérèse), MHH 33, no. 1 (2012): 29; MHH 33, no. 2 (2012): 63. Baptism of slaves, Indian and African, was common practice in the French Empire.

67. François Rivard dit Lorager dit Maisonville, a slaveholder, spent much time in the Illinois Country as an Indian agent, making it likely he purchased enslaved Africans at or around Kaskaskia (given its large population of enslaved African men, women, and boys) and then brought them back to serve his family in Detroit. L’Assomption records show burials of two enslaved children, ‘‘Nègre of François Maisonville, five days, 23 June 1777’’ and ‘‘Thérèse, daughter of Polly, negresse of Maisonville; three and a half months, 26 July 1784.’’ Since both records concern infants, the Maisonvilles clearly held their enslaved mothers and, possibly, fathers. The Maisonville family also had kinship ties to Native communities in the Illinois Country and around Detroit, thus showing another pattern of African slaveholding by Detroit natives beyond the Sterling household. On Kaskaskia numbers, see Ekberg, French Roots in the Illinois Country, 151, 154–55. Burial records are in MHH 33, no. 1 (2012): 26; MHH 33, no. 2 (2012): 63.

68. Death register for Marie, négresse libre, MHH 33, no. 2 (2012): 67. When Pierre Réaume, a wealthy habitant, died in 1785, his burial was likewise witnessed by a larger number of individuals. The presence of the ‘‘curé [priest] of Ste. Anne, Mr Maisonville Capn,’’ and several others spoke to his rank and position; ibid., 65. Deaths of freeborn infants, of which there are many recorded, were witnessed by parents; enslaved infants and adults, as well as most habitants, received last respects from the church witnesses Amable Bigra, Jacques Gagner, Pierre Javerai, or Louis Gaillard. Amable Bigra also served as a witness for weddings at Sainte Anne. See, for instance, Ontario Historical Society: Papers and Records (Toronto: Published by the Society, 1907), 8:80.

69. ‘‘An examination taken at the Castle of Canesadoga, 3 April 1761 by Captain Balfour and Ensign Newland of HM 80th Reg of Foot,’’ Gage Papers, AS, vol. 7, 1761 January–August.

70. Descriptions of Mohawks’ and the Brant family’s interactions with the practice of slavery are in Cooper, The Hanging of Angélique, 92, 96; Benn, The Iroquoisand the War of 1812, 41–42. On Amherst’s policy see Steele, Betrayals, 140. The inclusion of this language—‘‘That any English who are prisoners, or Deserters, Negro’s, Panis, & C . . . be delivered up immediately to the commandg officer of Detroit’’—in the draft and final versions of the treaty written by Guy Johnson with the Hurons (Wyandots) of Detroit further affirms the multiracial composition of Great Lakes communities; draft treaty, in WJP, 4:485; final treaty, in DCNY, 7:650–51. See also Treaty with the Delawares of Susquehanna, in DCNY, 7:711, 718, 852. In his council with the Six Nations at Johnson Hall in 1765, the orator Squash Cutter responded to William Johnson, ‘‘we are now resolved . . . to deliver up the Negro’s, but they being free, we wish you wou’d stretch out your hand and fetch them, we have no Frenchmen or Deserters, nor any more Prisoners’’; WJP, 7:732.

71. Benjamin Drew, ed., A North-side View of Slavery: The Refugee; or, The Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1856), 192, 193–95.

72. Maureen Elgersman Lee, Unyielding Spirits: Black Women and Slavery in Early Canada and Jamaica (1999; repr., New York: Routledge, 2013), 93. Pooley listed the two men as ‘‘Simon Ganseville’’ and ‘‘the father of John Patten’’; Drew, A North-side View, 192, 194.

73. Census data in MHC, 7:524; MHC, 10:326; MHC, 13:53. A 1794 receipt for the African slave Pompey shows that he was sold at Detroit for £45 New York currency and resold four months later, in January 1795, for a £5 profit; Riddell, ‘‘The Slave in Canada,’’ 322n12. Riddell notes that the price range for slaves in 1770–80 remained stable at approximately $300 for a man and $250 for a woman. Church records and bills of sale help reveal these numbers as reflecting both Native and African-descended men and women.

74. Castellanos, ‘‘Black Slavery in Detroit,’’ 87; Papers and Addresses: Ontario Historical Society, 1:52–53.

75. MHC, 19:494.

76. Wigmore, ‘‘Before the Railroad,’’ 441–42; ‘‘Narrative of William Tucker, Macomb County,’’ MHC, 18:488.

77. Arent de Peyster poem and ‘‘Lieutenant Bennett’s Report,’’ Michilimackinac, September 1, 1779, in WHC, 18:384n54, 398–99. On du Sable’s family, see Ingersoll, To Intermix with Our White Brothers, 108.

78. Seaver, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, 107.

79. ‘‘Extract of a speech from Labossier to Judge B. Parke dated May 18th 1815,’’ MHC, 18:60–61; conversation between the author and Eric Hemenway, Tribal Repatriation Specialist, Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa, April 5, 2013.

80. Daniel Crossman, ‘‘Early French Occupation of Michigan,’’ MHC, 14:659; Riddell, ‘‘The Slave in Canada,’’ 326n16; Wigmore, ‘‘Before the Railroad,’’ 444.

Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0895
Print ISSN
1543-4273
Pages
284-318
Launched on MUSE
2016-06-14
Open Access
No
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